How well do you listen? Listening well is a key component of communicating, which we spend most of our days doing. Intentional listening builds trust. It helps us feel more connected to those around us. It increases our effectiveness. It makes us better negotiators because we can pick up on subtleties we’d otherwise miss. It also helps minimize misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Bottom line: listening well is one of the most important skills of a successful leader.
How often do we listen to understand? Let’s be honest here…so we’ll ask again: How often do we really listen to understand? Not just hear words. Not simply pretend to listen while our minds are focused on anything but listening. Too often rather than listening, we’re preoccupied with thinking about how we’ll respond. According to Dr. Stephen Covey, we’re not the only ones. He said Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. That’s not really listening.
William James said, The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated. Listening shows others we value and appreciate them. Not listening shows the opposite. Have you ever had somebody call you on it? I (Lisa) have. Whatever it is that they’re saying, they insert a random and sometimes bizarrely unrelated sentence and ask if you agree. Oops – busted. I’ve done it to others too – because we can tell when the other person isn’t listening. It doesn’t feel good. We don’t feel valued or appreciated. We feel as if the other person doesn’t care. That we don’t matter.
Sometimes we simply tune the other person out because we’re pre-occupied. We’re wondering how we will possibly conquer our to-do list for today. Or deliver a stellar presentation tomorrow. Busted again! Multi-tasking is another vicious culprit; for many, we’re addicted to it. Worse yet, we might even daydream because we’re simply bored. Clearly, this doesn’t help foster deeper relationships.
In The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey reminds us to Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Succinctly put: listen first. Author Becky Harling expounds on this concept in her books, Listening, and Listen Well, Lead Better (co-authored with Steve Harling), offering several keys to listening well. One that stood out was: Listen. Listen first. Listen first fully. That’s easier said than done. All too often we want to demonstrate what we know or defend our position on any given topic. Some people want their 15 minutes of fame. But if we’d put this concept of listening first and fully into practice, what a difference we’d see in our relationships. You see, listening well connects us. It deepens bonds. Strengthens relationships. Makes us feel respected. Increases our influence as leaders.
In her essay entitled Tell Me More: On the Fine Art of Listening, journalist Brenda Ueland writes, Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. Think how the friends who really listen to us are the ones we move toward…When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life. These things happen when we feel heard. Understood. Appreciated. Valued. These feelings happen to those around us too when we listen.
How can we become better listeners? Here are a dozen or so “do’s” and “don’t’s” we’ve learned.
Be present. Fully. Show genuine interest. Ask good open-ended questions.
Focus on the person speaking. Give them your undivided attention. This means not glancing at your phone or checking emails. Or texts. Or having a side conversation. Or looking around the room for somebody more interesting to chat with.
Make good eye contact. Not in a stalky kind of way though!
Listen to learn. Be curious. Engage in the conversation by asking questions that demonstrate you’re paying attention.
Pay attention to nonverbals: notice their body language and tone of voice. And yours too – a simple head nod or smile shows you’re listening.
Show you understand by summarizing or paraphrasing what you heard.
Don’t be thinking of how you’re going to respond.
Don’t focus on your own agenda. Or your to-do list. Put these aside for now.
Don’t make people feel hurried.
Don’t interrupt. Even if you feel the need to share. Wait…even if you want to defend yourself.
Don’t offer advice until you determine if the person simply needs to share or if they’re seeking advice.
These tips can help us all become better leaders by making us better listeners. Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery, according to Dr. Joyce Brothers. Let’s flatter those around us this year!