TEN LISTENING DON’TS AND DOS TO HELP YOU BUILD STRONG RELATIONSHIPS IN LIFE AND BUSINESS
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” Earnest Hemingway, Writer
Do you listen with the intent to understand the person who is speaking? Is anyone listening to you? What happens when you feel like you are not being heard?
It seems, most of the time, we are not listening. In his compelling new book The Difference: When Good Isn’t Good Enough, Subir Chowdhury quotes several studies that demonstrate that we only listen anywhere from 53 to 24 percent of the time.
Clearly we need to listen more effectively. This means listening completely - with empathy - with an intent to understand what the other person is saying and feeling.
Have you ever caught yourself saying, “Nobody listens to me”? How different would life be for you, if you felt you were being heard and understood? How different would it be for others if they felt that you were truly, deeply, listening to them.
According to Ralph G. Nichols, Writer and Professor Emeritus of Rhetoric, University of Minnesota, listening and being understood, is essential in our “struggle to be human”. He says, “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
How can we get better at meeting this most basic human need? Here are 5 Don’ts and 5 Do’s that may help.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but they are things that are done often, by well-meaning people, who don’t even realize that they are sending a powerful signal to the person they are speaking with. That signal says, loud and clear, “I am not interested in what you are saying and I am not interested in you.”
Failure to listen can result in unrecoverable outcomes, in both personal relationships and in business.
For example, I recently went to a facial make-up counter in a department store, ready to spend a few hundred dollars on some replacement makeup. I knew exactly what I wanted. Chanel was my product supplier of choice and I had been using their products for over twenty years. But, on a whim, I decided, “I’ll try a new company this time.” I examined the product testers on the counter, made my decision and approached the sales person, who had been busy with other customers. When I finally got her attention, her mobile phone vibrated, she answered, and then turned her back to me to complete the call.
I felt dismissed. So, I walked away from that counter and went over to the Chanel counter. I made my purchases and have never gone back to that first counter or to that sales person again, even though I have been in the store several times since then.
At the Chanel counter, the sales person was attentive. She expressed genuine interest in my needs, and listened. She even offered me a complimentary facial because I told her I was scheduled to give a presentation the next day and wanted to look my best. As a result, I have been a loyal customer and have bought many products from her.
So here are the don’ts:
1. Don’t Answer the phone when you are having a conversation with someone, whether or not it is sales related. The person on the telephone can leave a message while the person in front of you has taken the time to come to see you, in person. They deserve your undivided attention.
2. Don’t Read or send a text message during a conversation. The text message will be there later for you to respond. The person will not.
3. Don’t look around to see who else is in the room with whom you could be talking. The messaging you are sending, without saying a word, is this, “There are more important people than you, in this room.” The person may not respond negatively to you in the moment when you do this, but they will remember it forever. The saying comes to mind, “People may not remember what you said to them but they will always remember how you treated them.”
4. Don’t interrupt before he or she finishes speaking. When you interrupt, you cut off the other person’s train of thought. It is a violent and jarring action that leads to confusion and sometimes even anger. Don’t try this out at home.
5. Don’t rehearse in your mind what you will say while the other person is still speaking. When you are thinking about how you are going to respond, you cannot hear in full and you will miss critical thoughts that are crucial for your understanding. This is one of the things that causes disagreements and escalates arguments.
At a deep level, everyone wants to be understood. It is a basic human need. The only way to be understood is by being heard. And the only way you will truly hear is by listening, in an empathetic way.
1. Look into the other person’s eyes.
How does this help? If you can remember the color of that person’s eyes after you have walked away, this is a good indicator that you have listened and heard well.
2. Be aware of the person’s body language and tone of voice as they speak.
How does this help? This will help you to build rapport. For example, if the person’s tone of voice goes up and their body seems to come alive when they speak about a certain topic, you can say, “Wow, you seem really passionate about that. I feel inspired by your energy. Tell me more about it.”
3. Ask open-ended questions that are related to what the person just said.
How does this help? You will build trust because you are likely to get, not just the facts, but you will hear their heart-based thoughts and opinions.
4. Summarize what the person said or repeat something they said, in their own words.
How does this help? When you let the person know you heard and understood, not only their words but how they felt about what they said, you show you value that person and their opinion, whether you agree or not.
5. Be genuinely interested in what the person has to say.
How does this help? You will understand what the person is saying. This is powerful for both you and the person being listened to. As Dale Carnegie says, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood”.
Here is a quote from Oprah Winfrey’s commencement address at Harvard in 2013 that brings this last point home. “We want to be understood. I have done over 35,000 interviews in my career and as soon as that camera shuts off everyone always turns to me and inevitably in their own way asks this question “Was that okay?” I heard it from President Bush, I heard it from President Obama. I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives. I’ve heard it from victims and perpetrators of crimes. I even heard it from Beyonce and all of her ‘Beyonceness’. She finishes performing, hands me the microphone and says, “Was that okay?” Friends and family, yours, enemies, strangers in every argument in every encounter, every exchange I will tell you, they all want to know one thing: was that okay? Did you hear me? Do you see me? Did what I say mean anything to you? And even though this is a college where Facebook was born my hope is that you would try to go out and have more face-to-face conversations with people you may disagree with.”
You can read the entire address here.
Do this listening practice over the next 7 days and see how your interactions and your relationships improve. Ask someone a question and listen completely, for 90 seconds or until they stop talking. Don’t interrupt. Listen without thinking about what you want to say next. If they stop before the end of 90 seconds, wait for a couple seconds before you speak.
Then, summarize what you just heard them say. Ask another question that is in direct relation to what they last said.
Do not volunteer any information about yourself - your ideas, your thoughts, your feelings. Focus entirely on the person you are speaking with.
At the end of the 7 days, review the results. How did these actions impact your communications? How have your relationships changed? What were the benefits to you? And to the person being listened to? Feel free to leave a comment on this post with your results.
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