The sage who said, "The only reason we listen is because we know we get to talk next” made a valid point. The skill to listen well, however, is one of the most important elements to a successful career. A. G. Lafley, CEO of Procter & Gamble for 9 years, was once asked this question from a new employee in an orientation meeting: "What is the key to your success?" His response: "I think I am a good listener."
We are so easily distracted as we respond to our cell phones, emails, or text messages that we miss what people are saying. We must find ways to pay attention. Let's face it—we must be present when we are present. A major way to “be present when you are present” is to improve your listening skills. Here are some tips on improving your listening today in order to pay better attention.
Pause before giving a response. Just a three-second pause will encourage the person talking to give you more information or give you time to prepare a concise and relevant answer in response. Practice a three-count to get in the habit to pause before giving feedback.
Listen to ask questions. Even if you don't get to ask the question, just thinking of a question will motivate you to process the information and stay connected to the person talking. The person who talks a lot dominates a conversation, but the person who asks questions controls the conversation. Questions allow you to talk less and yet have a positive influence on the direction of the conversation.
As you listen, contrast the time you spend listening versus talking. President Lyndon Johnson had a sign on his office wall that read, "You ain't learning nothing when you are talking." Listen more than you talk. If you find yourself talking too much, simply turn your topic into an open question. For example, if you are talking about the World Series, you can pause and ask, "How do you feel about the Series going into November?" Then sit back and listen. You immediately go from talker to listener.
Listen non-judgmentally. As you listen, don't allow your emotions to interfere. Stick with comprehension of the message and not how you feel about the message. Recognize your biases and don't let them keep you from understanding the message. When you listen emotionally, you may begin mentally to refute even while the talker is still giving you important information.
Finally, look and sound pleasant as you listen. Look like you are paying attention; lean forward, make eye contact, demonstrate open posture, and sound encouraging. Use feedback words such as, "oh," "tell me more," and "that has to be difficult," with a upward pitch to your voice to encourage more information.
As Voltaire said long ago, "When you listen, you have power. When you talk, you give it away."
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.