How many times have you turned to someone and exclaimed, "That's not what I said!" or had those words directed toward you? Most of us, unfortunately, do not rate high in listening skills, even though we spend quite a bit of our day involved in one form of listening or another.
The average person spends about 40 percent of the day listening. Executives (the better ones, of course!) spend up to 80 percent of their time listening to others.
Conquer Your Greatest Fear: Public Speaking
Do you break out in a cold sweat before giving a presentation?
Do you dread speaking before groups or think, “I can’t wait to get this over with”?
Do you avoid giving presentations or make up excuses so you don’t have to?
Do you want to be more effective?
If you answered, “Yes!” to any of the above, then this Webinar is for you.
Tuesday April 1, EDT
Why aren't we better at this critical skill if we spend so much of our waking hours involved in listening? After all, if you spent that much time exercising, cooking or learning a language, you'd be better at it, right? Sadly, that's not the way it works with listening.
One of the reasons is — no one taught us how to listen. Think about it: have you ever taken a listening class? Chances are the answer is "no." To make matters worse: even though we're not instructed how to be better listeners, we're expected to be competent at it, especially in management.
Benefits of better listening
How can becoming a better listener benefit you professionally?
It is only through listening that you gain the knowledge you need to act. If you want to please the boss, you have to listen and understand. If you're selling, you need to know your prospect.
Here's an effective tactic from a salesperson who was successful on the job for 50 years: "My clients thought I was the greatest conversationalist they knew. What I did was ask a few questions, then sit back and listen." Listening is truly the most important secret of powerful, successful sales and marketing.
Lessons from a Chinese symbol
The Chinese have a symbol for active listening with four components: eyes, ears, heart and undivided attention.
The eyes: When we use the eyes, we're observing body language, which tells us more than the words themselves. If managers look at their watches or fidget while employees relay a problem, they send the message that they're not interested in what the employee has to say. On the other hand, if they look you directly in the eyes, lean toward you and nod as you speak, you know they're paying close attention and care about your concerns.
The ears: With the ears, listen for both literal and hidden meanings. Listen to the tone and cadence of the other person's speech, as well as his or her words and phrases. These give you insight into real feelings. Too much hesitation, excessive use of filler words or sounds, like "um" or "you know," and word repetition you know are signs of nervousness, discomfort or possibly, lying.
The heart: When using the heart in active listening, put yourself in the place of the other people and show empathy, an excellent way to gain rapport with others. Use phrases, such as "I appreciate ...," "I want to help ...," and "I can imagine how you feel ..."
Undivided attention: To provide undivided attention means devoting 100 percent of your focus to whoever is speaking, not to checking e-mail or answering phone calls. Remember that hearing (a physiological process) and listening (a mental process) are different. Hearing is not sufficient; we must listen to truly pay attention.
Barriers to listening
Another reason we're not better listeners is due to the many barriers standing in our way. Listed below are major barriers along with suggestions for dealing with them:
Jumping to conclusions: Have you ever thought you knew what another person was going to say and were wrong? Many of us have been in that embarrassing situation. Force yourself to be patient, listen and resist the temptation to speak before the other person has completed his or her thoughts.
Short attention span: Having a short attention span is very common today, especially among young people. Here's a great way to improve your attention span. Concentrate on the other person's words as if you'll take a quiz at the end and must score 100 percent in order to keep your job! Also, keep in mind how important it is to the person speaking that you're not off on a mental detour.
Judging: Hold back on judging until all the facts are in, even if you previously had a negative experience with an individual; this time may be different. We can positively influence others by our attitude and expectation of them.
Outside noises: Go to a quiet room, more conducive to conversation, then turn off cell phones, radios and TVs.
Planning responses: Don't plan a response while another person is still talking. You might miss an important point. Instead, after the person finishes, take a long pause to gather your thoughts, and then speak. Don't be afraid of silence.
There's no doubt that being a good listener will make you a better leader, manager, employee or marketer. Remember that being a good listener is more than being there while someone else is speaking. It is more than hearing; it is understanding the message being sent.
Although you may never have formally learned how to be a good listener, it's not too late. Get started right away and follow the suggestions in this article. Hopefully, you'll never hear the words "That's not what I said!" because you'll be on your way to becoming a competent listener.
About the author:
Marsha Freedman, MS, is a trainer, coach, professional speaker and university communication instructor. She is producer of the Powerful Presentations CD program and author of a workbook on presentation anxiety. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her Web site is http://www.xprself.com.