“People hearing without listening.”
Simon & Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence
This is something we all do – every day. We hear the people around us speaking – family members, co-workers, customers, prospects – but we don’t really listen to what they are saying. Why do we do this?
The answer is actually simple … instead of listening to the other person, we are listening to ourselves. We are paying more attention to the soundtrack in our head, thinking things like:
“Well, as soon as she’s finished this story, I’m going to tell her about the time I …”;
“That’s not right. How could he think that was a good idea. There’s no way we’re going to investigate that solution.”; or
“Gosh, I’m tired. I really didn’t sleep well last night at all. I wonder if I can fit in a nap before dinner?”
You get the idea. We get so caught up in our own thoughts, experiences and interests we stop participating in the conversation. I recently came across a newsletter I’d been saving for decades because it contained this brief summary of the ways in which we neglect to listen:
So how do we improve our ability to listen? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple. Like the majority of skills, becoming a great listener is developed with practice and the use of a few “tricks”:
1. Eliminate distractions
For example, look away from your computer screen when you are on the phone. In person, look directly at the speaker while they are talking to you. When we limit the amount of simultaneous input our brain receives, it allows us to focus on our chosen task – in this case, listening.
2. Grab a pen and paper
While this technique won’t work at a cocktail party, it’s invaluable during phone conversations and meetings. Taking quick notes (or even doodling) helps us focus. It also allows us to record our thoughts and questions, so we can keep listening instead of trying to remember what we want to say.
3. Stay present – be in the moment you’re in
This is not easy but, with practice, it becomes a life-transforming skill. Remain aware of what you are doing each moment. When you find yourself listening to the thoughts, stories or conversations in your head (something we all do), stop. Go back to listening. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. This will become second nature for you over time. All of us can be better listeners if we practice.
In a world where, increasingly, communication is text-based, listening will become a much sought-after art and skill. It is the very foundation of communication. Don’t neglect it.