“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” – Doug Larson
Erica Hersh writes, “Effective listening is not something that comes naturally to many people. Being able to listen effectively – and then use these skills for influential leadership – is a skill that must be learned and practiced.”
A Lesson in Ineffective Listening
“Ineffective communication creates barriers” -Karen S. Johnson
Once after a conference, several of us shared our experiences and takeaways; one person needing some help shared their story with us, ending with a question. Having more knowledge than experience in my twenties, I answered what I thought to be a well-phrased solution. My friend followed with a similar answer. To my surprise, the person asking the question thanked my friend for his input.
The man turned to me and thanked me for my “comments,” adding, “when he (pointing to my friend) said it, I felt it.” I have never forgotten the lesson learned from that experience. I heard every word he spoke, including his question, my well thought out answer revealed I wasn’t listening to his heart because I was too busy mentally constructing my response. He didn’t feel my words because I never felt his! – Ouch!
Corinne Gonzalez says active listening “Builds trust and respect. Using active listening skills shows the other person you care and are interested in what they are saying. People are more likely to come to you when they feel trusted. This might be a partner whom you had a conflict with a child or teen wanting to confide in you or a colleague hoping to solve some issues at work.”
Most people can speak anywhere from 150 to 200 words per minute. While listening, we can process between 500 to 1,000 words per minute. Consider the benefits of improving our listening skills when speaking with people. My story proves you can hear 1,000 words and process none!
Since questions and answers go together, learning how to ask the right questions is the best way to develop more effective listening skills. Here are five thoughts that I have found helpful:
1. Let Others Speak Freely
Be patient and wait your turn. Honestly, listen to what they’re saying to you, hear their heart, and follow the flow of the discussion without taking it away from them. M. Scott Peck rightly says, “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”
2. Listen Observantly
Body language is essential. 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 lets them know you’re listening.
3. Don’t Interrupt the Person Speaking
Steven R. Covey said, “Seek to understand then to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” So, wait until the other person has finished speaking; that way, you can make a much better-informed statement or reply. Then, allow them space to comment; this enables your conversation to flow comfortably.
4. Measure Your Responses
Don’t allow your emotions to influence your response to what the speaker says—keep an open mind and let them finish their thoughts. It’s ok if you disagree; carefully measure your answers, be cordial, and always affirm and validate the person for their openness.
5. Ask Open-Ended Questions
To keep productive conversations going, continue asking open-ended questions. It provides people more opportunities to express themselves, giving you a better understanding of who they are and how they process information. Open-ended questions help you to follow up their answers with straightforward thought-provoking questions, thus allowing conversations to flow freely.
Brian Tracy says, “A major stimulant to creative thinking is focused questions. There is something about a well-worded question that often penetrates to the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights.”
“If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.” -Robert Baden-Powell