So what’s the secret? Listening!
Lots of people describe themselves as ‘good listeners’. But how many of us really are that good? How much do we focus on the person that we’re listening to, and take in what they’re saying? Or how much of that conversation do we spend thinking about what we’re going to say next, just waiting for our turn?
Here are a few ways of not really listening (I am, or have been, guilty of all of them):
- Interrupting – yes, even if they’ve completely monopolised the conversation and spoken for 3 hours without pausing for breath. Unless the building’s on fire, listen, and then never speak to them again. Or use an exit strategy like getting another drink, catching a bus or going away to shoot yourself! Chances are that, even if you do manage to cut in, they won’t listen to you any way, they’ll just be waiting for their next turn to speak. And in a normal conversation, you shouldn’t need to interrupt.
- Glazing over (or searching the room for someone more interesting) – if you’re not interested in someone’s conversation, learn how to pretend, or use one of the exit strategies above. If they realise that something’s wrong, they won’t stop talking, they’ll blame you for a dull conversation.
- Going one better – if someone is telling you about their recent car crash, don’t get started on your even worse crash last week/month/year. Don’t make their story (and them) look small. It’s not empathising or showing that you understand, it’s scoring points. Although the conversation ball should pass between you, so that you each get a turn, you’re not playing tennis, so don’t try and win.
- Fixing things – if someone is telling you about a problem in their life, big or small, they probably just want you to listen. Let them get it off their chest. Don’t try and solve it for them unless you’re actually asked to (and maybe not even then). They’ve probably already tried various solutions, or they’re attached to their problem and don’t want it solved. Just give them your attention, and time to find their own way. You’ll definitely get the blame if your approach goes wrong, so don’t be a fixer.
I’m still working on all of these (especially on occasions where alcohol is involved). But I didn’t realise how much work I had to do until a mentor in my business recommended one of the most useful audio recordings I’ve ever listened to. It’s called ‘Listening for Success’ by Steve Shapiro. The first time I heard it, I realised I do that and I do that and Oh No, I do that too. And unless you really are a natural good listener (hint – unlikely), you will too.
But once we know this, we can learn to listen better, more attentively. People will love us. Giving time and undivided attention is an amazing gift. People really appreciate it, even if they don’t realise why. And here’s a tip to help – when you’re listening to someone, put your tongue behind your front teeth. Now try to speak. You can’t, can you? Get it? You’ll be the most popular person in the room.
Remember the old saying ‘SILENT and LISTEN are spelt with the same letters – coincidence? I think not!
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