I’m reminded of a story I once read that illustrates this point of intentional listening;
“Back when the telegraph was the fastest method of long distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the office address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, busy office filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background.
A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office. The young man filled out his form and sat down with the seven other applicants in the waiting area.
After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. They muttered among themselves that they hadn’t heard any summons yet. They assumed that the young man who went into the office made a mistake and would be disqualified for going into the office ahead of everyone else before he was summoned.
Within a few minutes, however, the employer escorted the young man out of the office and said to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has just been filled.”
The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and one of them spoke up saying, “Wait a minute, I don’t understand. He was the last one to come in, and he just gets up on his own and goes in first, and we never get a chance to be interviewed, and yet he gets the job. That’s not fair!”
The employer said, “I’m sorry, but all the time you’ve been sitting here, that telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse code: ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did, so the job is his.”
Effective listening requires an awareness of important information being communicated, the ability to clearly decipher it’s meaning, and what it means to us. The young man in the story was practicing effective listening, and that set him apart from the others who were in the room before him.
“When we honestly listen, a person feels valued, connected, and appreciated” -JSP
While the story of the telegraph illustrates the need for effective listening, nothing is more effective than honestly listening to another person. Many leaders who are good communicators, can easily miss the powerful benefits of having an engaging conversation.
Most people can speak anywhere from 150 to 200 words per minute. I’m told that while listening, we have the capacity to process between 500 to 1,000 words per minute. Think of the benefits of improving our listening skills when speaking with people.
“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” – Bryant H. McGill
Let others speak first
Be patient and wait your turn. Honestly listen to what they’re saying to you, and take the discussion from there, without taking it away from them.
Body language is important. Face the person who’s speaking to you, make eye contact, be yourself, and your facial expressions will be natural. Also, practice some active listening. Ask the speaker to clarify what they mean if you’re unsure. This will assure the other person that you’re really listening.
Steven Covey said, “seek to understand then to be understood.” So, wait until the other person has finished speaking, so you can make a much better-informed statement and/or reply. Then, allow them space to comment. This enables your conversation to flow comfortably.
Manage your responses
Don’t allow your emotions to influence your response to what the speaker has said. Keep an open mind, and let them finish speaking. If you disagree with the speaker, react to the statement not the person. Be cordial.
If you want to keep a productive conversation going, ask open‑ended questions. This allows the person to express themselves freely. It also enhances communication.