“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ― Ernest Hemingway
Ok. I’ll admit it. It was me.
What on earth are you talking about Summerhayes? Have you finally lost the plot? Gone off the rails? Decided to enter the loony bin? Nope. I am admitting something, I’ve always kept hidden.
For year and years.
I didn’t listen and focus on the conversation.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it. However, for years, I have had this habit of appearing to listen whilst doing something else. For example, I often, read something one e:mail as I speak to someone face-2-face. At work, I will sit in meetings and whilst someone is talking, I will be checking emails, responding to queries and the like.
Hang on though. Everyone does it, don’t they?
You see many people doing the same thing. They will be reading something on their laptops, whilst at the same time, appearing to be in a conversation.
It has become a habit to many people. A habit that is both unhelpful to me, but worse, impacts those around me.
So how do you try to fix it?
I am striving to change the way I listen and interact with people. I have come up with an eight-point an eight-point Check out my ideas below:
Point 1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
From that moment on, I have locked my laptop; put my mobile phone down and faced the speaker. How on earth do you think they feel if you are looking at everything but them?
Point 2: Be attentive, but relaxed.
Be present with the person and give attention to what they are saying. After all, it is important to them. I am mentally screening out distractions, like background activity and noise. It helps in my case that I wear glasses. I have even taken them off, so that I can “see” the person, rather than all the other distractions in the room. Don’t be distracted by your own thoughts, feelings, or biases and pay attention to them.
Point 3: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with senses fully alert. When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, key words and phrases.
Point 4: Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions” on them.
I can not count the number of times, I have interrupted someone and made a suggestion to solve a problem. It has been one of my “traits” for years and I have grown to hate doing it. We all think and speak at different rates – the average person utters anywhere from 125 to 175 words per minute. However, we can read upwards of 500 to 700 words per minute. Hence, a really clear reason why we end up “zoning out”. If you are a quick thinker and an agile talker, the burden is on you to relax your pace for the slower, more thoughtful communicator—or for the person who has trouble expressing himself.
When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions. Most of us don’t want your advice anyway. If they do, they would ask for it. Most people prefer to figure out our their solutions to their problems.
Point 5: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask any clarifying questions.
When you don’t understand something, of course you should ask the person to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the person pauses. Then say something like, “Hang on a moment, I didn’t quite understand what you just said about…”
Point 6: Ask questions to ensure understanding.
Be careful of asking questions that take people down “rat holes”. Our questions can lead people in directions that have nothing to do with where they thought they were going. Sometimes we work our way back to the original topic, but very often we don’t.
When you notice that your question has led the speaker astray, take responsibility for getting the conversation back on track by rephrasing the last part of their conversation. In effect, getting them to reset where they are in their thought processes.
Point 7: Empathy. Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
If you feel sad when the person with whom you are talking expresses sadness, joyful when they express joy, fearful when they describe their fears—and convey those feelings through your facial expressions and words—then your effectiveness as a listener is assured. Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening.
finally and the most difficult point is, Point 8: Keep an open mind.
Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things they tell you. If what they say worries you, go ahead and feel worried, but don’t say to yourself, “Well, that was a stupid move.” As soon as you indulge in judgmental thoughts, you’ve compromised your effectiveness as a listener.
Listen without jumping to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent the thoughts and feelings inside their brain. You don’t know what those thoughts and feelings are and the only way you’ll find out is by listening.
I have found that I need to keep my “feedback” to myself. I have learnt to pause, before responding and sometimes replay back to the speaker a summary of what they have said, both to show that I have listened, as well as to cross check my understanding.
Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to comment and share.
I leave you with the following quote.
“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” ― Roy T. Bennett