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7 Steps To Being A Better Listener
Which will make you a more persuasive
by Joe Takash (June 15, 2009)
Listening is as far from a passive activity as anything I can
imagine. By being a passive hearer, you may take in some words but
give nothing back. Listening requires thought and effort. It means
you must work at listening with your head and heart and not just
your ears. And it means learning how to respond to what is being
said so that youíre listening communicates things your
relationship partner needs to hear. Here are seven steps to take in
order to gain listening wisdom:
1. Practice silence.
Remaining quiet can be a challenge. Youíre going to feel
compelled to interrupt, to finish sentences and to add your two
cents. It takes discipline to remain silent. Make a conscious effort
to say nothing until youíre sure your relationship partner has
finished his thought. This is easier written than done. Therefore,
try practicing it at home before you do it at work. With a spouse or
a friend, force yourself to stay silent during a conversation until
theyíre done speaking. In many ways, itís more difficult to do
this with someone you know well, since conversations are often
filled with frequent interruptions by both parties. By practicing
silence in a personal relationship, though, you learn the discipline
of knowing when to be silent in a professional one.
2. Eliminate distractions.
Shut the door, turn off your cell phone, donít glance at the
computer for email. If appropriate Ė if your relationship partner
has communicated that he feels this meeting is important Ė clear
your schedule and tell him that he has all time he needs to make his
points. Similarly, donít bring up tangential or unrelated topics.
You want the other person to feel youíve done everything possible
to make 100% listening possible.
3. Focus your attention.
This means you canít daydream, dwell on how youíre going to
respond or tune out the other person. Giving your boss or customer
your undivided attention is just that Ė a gift. Reflect on what
sheís trying to tell you Ė consider the literal meaning and also
read between the lines. Donít allow a ringing phone, a
conversation going on outside the office, or anything else distract
you. People are remarkably sensitive to another individualís
attention Ė or lack thereof. They can somehow tell if youíre
only listening at 50%. Give them 100% if you value the relationship
and the results it can produce.
4. Show non-verbal attentiveness.
We communicate most of our messages without opening our mouths.
Itís not enough just to listen attentively; you need to
demonstrate this attentiveness. Three easy ways to do so to nod,
make eye contact, and smile. Shifting uneasily in your seat or
glancing around as if youíre waiting for the police to arrest you
are not ways to communicate your attentiveness. Impassive, immobile
listeners seem bored. Use your eyes and body language to convey that
youíre anything but bored.
5. Use the "repeat principle".
Paraphrase what you thought the other person said. For instance,
"If Iím hearing correctly, youíre telling me that
...." By asking your relationship partner to repeat what you
believe is an important point, youíre demonstrating that you want
to listen better. Requesting clarification communicates your desire
to know exactly what is meant. Now, you can over-use this technique.
If you do, youíll come off as inattentive or hard-of-hearing. Wait
until you really arenít clear on what heís saying. Or wait until
the other person says something where heís placed a lot of
emphasis Ė either through his tone of voice or because he tells
you, "This is important." This gives you the opening you
need to apply the repeat principle.
Empathy is essential for results-producing relationships, and itís
especially crucial in listening. You have 101 ways to communicate
your empathy, not all of them verbal. A knowing look, a nod of your
head, a sigh Ė these gestures can communicate you "get
it" faster and more empathically than a long-winded speech. Donít
try to over-empathize Ė you donít have to make a melodramatic
show of how youíre relating to what a client or manager is telling
you. Sometimes empathy can be expressed by relating your own
experience relative to what your relationship partner has described.
Sometimes a simple, "Believe me, I know what youíre going
through with Jim" will get the job done. Empathy really is
nothing more than showing you have listened with your heart as well
as your head.
7. Ask good questions.
Have you ever been in an audience when the speaker asks,
"Does anyone have any questions?" and no one responds? Itís
as if he never spoke at all Ė or no one paid any attention to what
he said. If you donít ask any questions during a conversation Ė
or if you just ask perfunctory questions Ė youíre going to
create the same effect. So donít be shy about asking a few good
questions. Even one good question may be enough to show that youíve
listened intently. If youíve ever listened to a press conference,
you know what I mean. Typically, a politician or pro sports coach is
asked a bunch of inane questions, and then one member of the media
asks the question that really sheds light on a situation. You want
to ask that good question. Maybe your boss has just told you that he
canít stand his own boss and doesnít know how to deal with his
unreasonable requests; that he canít sleep nights, that heís
spending too much work time trying to placate his boss than get real
work done. So your good question might be: "Can you talk to the
CEO or someone in management and ask them to intervene?" A good
question demonstrates youíve followed the logic of the
conversation and are thinking about possible solutions/actions. Thatís
the mark of a perceptive listener.
Listen with the selfless attitude of a saint.
To be a superior listener, you must temporarily forsake ego. To
reap the full relationship benefits of being a good listener, youíre
going to have to forget about YOU. Obviously, you do have an ego and
you canít disappear entirely Ė nor should you. But being able to
do so at key times in a conversation will increase your value to
this other person.
(Note: Joe Takash is the author of the newly released Results
Through Relationships: Building Trust, Performance and Profit
Through People, as well as a sought-after media resource and
keynote speaker. As the founder of performance management firm
Victory Consulting, Joe has worked with clients like American
Express, Prudential, Century 21, and General Motors. Results
Through Relationships can be purchased at www.amazon.com,
and ordered through any major bookseller. His website is www.JoeTakash.com.
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