Five Ways to Become a Great Listener
The Power of Listening
Great leaders. Great parents. Great supervisors. Great team members. They are all great listeners.
Lots of people are great at hearing. Fewer people are great listeners. Listening is a skill, and skills can be learned. Learn great listening skills by focusing on a few key ideas.
This lens is all about listening. Why it's important. What it means to other people. How to get better at it. Use these tips to learn how to be a great listener.
Photo courtesy www.sxc.hu
Article: Listen more, Speak less - 5 Steps to Better Listening
As a coach and consultant, I spend lots of time listening to people describe their situation, their problem, their frustration, etc. My clients expect me to offer insights, knowledge, and perspectives to help them create better results either personally or professionally. In many respects, I am a "professional listener." From this experience, I have found that hearing is easy and listening is hard.
A quick review of some statistics about listening, compiled by the International Listening Association (www.listen.org), yields some insight into why listening is so hard:
- Most of us are distracted, preoccupied or forgetful about 75% of the time we should be listening.
- We listen at 125-250 words per minute, but think at 1000-3000 words per minute.
- Immediately after we listen to someone, we only recall about 50% of what they said.
- Long-term, we only remember 20% of what we hear.
- More than 35 business studies indicate that listening is a top skill needed for success in business.
1. Listen to understand, not to respond.
Effective listening goes beyond hearing someone's words. Effective listening creates an environment where the other person feels that you understand them.
This tip applies to attitude more than it does to behavior. Many people view dialogue like a tennis match where the two parties square off and hit the ball back-and-forth. In this approach to conversation, both parties are adversaries trying to "score the point."
To listen effectively, I suggest that you view dialogue more like a pitcher and catcher in a baseball game. The pitcher (speaker) throws the ball for the catcher (you) to receive it. The catcher only throws the ball back after he has it firmly in his grasp.
In other words, listen to receive the meaning. Once you understand, then you can respond.
2. Be quiet.
Being quiet gives you the opportunity to hear the words, the tone, and the meaning behind the words. It gives you the chance to observe the speaker's body language.
To help you remember this tip, I'll share two quick statements with you:
- "When your mouth is open, your ears are closed."
- "LISTEN and SILENT have the same letters."
3. Let them finish their thoughts.
In other words, don't interrupt the speaker. From the previous tip, this idea seems obvious. However, I have seen many arguments and misunderstandings that stemmed from interruptions. It's hard to remain silent. It's even harder to remain silent until someone has completely expressed their idea.
4. Maintain eye contact.
Effective listening means observing everything about the speaker's message. People communicate at least as much with their body language as they do with their words. Good listeners learn to "listen" with their eyes as well as with their ears.
If you choose to work on something else (answer e-mail, fill out paperwork, etc.) while someone is speaking to you, they will not "feel" that they were heard.
5. Ask questions to ensure that you understand.
Just because you heard the words and observed the body language, don't assume that you understand. If a particular point is unclear to you, ask a question to clarify it before you respond.
Even if you think you understand the message, make sure you do by clarifying it with the speaker. You might say something like:
- "Just to be sure I understand you, let me repeat back to you what I thought you said..."
- "I heard you say _____. Is that correct?"
- "If I understand correctly, your concern is..."
Good leaders are good listeners. Effective listening helps to resolve conflicts, build trust, inspire people, and strengthen teams. It often requires you to "bite your tongue," and, from my personal experience, I know that it can be hard work. I also know that the results are worth the effort.
Books on Listening
This is also an interactive list. I started the list with a few suggestions. What have you read to help you become a better listener.
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Let me know what you think, what you would like to see, suggestions, etc.