Updated: Jul 24, 2019
When is the last time someone really listened to you? When is the last time you attentively listened to someone? Listening has always been hard. Today, with our attention span shortened by social media, sound bites and rapid-fire images, listening is more difficult than ever. The average person speaks at 125 words per minute, but our brains process information much more quickly, making a wandering mind likely. It takes effort to listen well.
I once worked with someone who was admired by everyone who knew him. He had held leadership positions in numerous organizations, had traveled the world, and, when I knew him, was a skilled training facilitator. Participants would flock around him at the end of every session, listening for pearls of wisdom. I noticed, however, that he rarely said anything, beyond asking questions of those around him. What, then, was everyone listening for? "Each person is on a journey," he said when I asked him. "Everyone is looking for answers. I find that many people have already found the answers but just don't know it. I've learned that if I ask the right questions and listen closely, people often realize the answers were right there, all the time."
At BetterNow Partners, we think we're pretty good at listening, and helping clients find solutions. Try these tips to improve your own listening skills:
1. Stop talking. It's tough to let sound in when you're busy pushing sound out.
2. Make it easy for the speaker. Get on the same level as the speaker, on the same side of the desk or table. Minimize distractions; put your phone on silent.
3. Engage and Pause. Actively tune into what the speaker is saying but pause before jumping in with a comment. Too often, we don’t really hear what someone is saying because we’re too busy formulating a response.
4. Empathize verbally and non-verbally. Watch for the speaker’s body language and reflect that. If someone is excited, with good news, reflect that in your posture, your facial expressions and comments. If the speaker is expressing concern or frustration, reduce the “size” of your gestures and keep your replies even and calm.
5. Summarize and check. Your ability to summarize someone’s comments and verify for accuracy tells the speaker you’ve been listening closely and leaves a lasting impression.
Try these simple tips and see if you find, like we have, that the more you listen, the more people value what you have to say.