By Kevin Eikenberry
I’ve said it in a hundred training workshops. Listening is important. I don’t know why I say it – everyone already knows it. Whether talking to leaders, coaches, trainers, meeting facilitators, plant operators or anyone else, I’m sure the reaction is the same.
“Duh, Kevin, that’s profound.”
I believe we all know how to be great listeners when we really want to be. Times like: on a second date, when comforting someone who is hurting, when helping someone we care about. All of these are times we have experienced, and if our listening were graded in these situations, we would all score high.
So, listening is a skill we already have, and can perform quite well in certain situations. The problem is we don’t practice our skills at our best in nearly enough situations. In fact, there are sometimes that we are awful listeners.
– When we are angry.
– When we are busy.
– When we don’t care or are uninterested.
– When we are bored.
Most of us aren’t very good listeners in these situations. But it is in many of these situations when improving our listening habits will pay us the biggest dividends. What can we do then to improve our listening habits in these difficult times?
The Seven “Gets”
There are seven specific “Gets” that I recommend to you in any situation when you aren’t at your listening best. Here they are:
1. Get Curious. I learned this in college. I was most successful in classes I was interested in. So, to improve my success in other classes I looked for what I found interesting or wondered about. When I got more curious I became more interested, listened more carefully and was more successful.
The same is true for meetings or one-on-one conversations. Become curious and you will listen more carefully, ask questions for clarification and understanding, and voila! boredom becomes interest.
2. Get a pen. Taking notes when listening has a way of keeping your mind on task. It shows the other person that you are genuinely interested and helps you hear for important facts, feelings and other information.
You may not want to bring out your notebook in every conversation, but there are many situations, especially in our professional lives where taking notes will increase your listening effectiveness significantly.
3. Get focused. The last two pieces of advice help us focus, for sure. Beyond that though we can improve our listening by shutting off our brain a bit. Stop thinking about the call you need to make. Stop thinking about your other project. Stop, and listen.
4. Get over it. Perhaps someone is talking about something you don’t agree with, or they have hit a hot button with one of their comments. Often at this point we stop listening and await our chance to rebut, restate or renounce their comments.
Get your mind back into listening mode by telling your mind to “Stop!” If you have a passionate point to make your passion will help you communicate it. Keep listening, and state your ideas when the time is right.
5. Get over yourself. Sometimes we are angry or frustrated about things that are unrelated to what the speaker is saying. In these cases we need to get over ourselves and get into the other person.
The speaker may need counsel or acknowledgement from us, or may need our help on something very important. Get over your stuff and listen. Don’t take your anger out on the other party just because they are there. Hint: Listening isn’t about you.
6. Get space. Sometimes we can delay a conversation if we are really upset or otherwise distracted. If the situation allows you to get back with the other person, be honest and tell them that you need a few minutes before you will be able to truly listen to them.
They will appreciate your comments and be pleased to have a better listener in front of them at that future time.
7. Get in practice. Since listening is a skill, we can practice it. When we practice doing something we build a habit. So practice better listening skills all of the time, especially when it is easier to do so.
Then the next time you don’t really want to listen, your habits will kick in and you will be more effective.
Each of these seven will help you listen better in the difficult situations. I encourage you to take this advice, applying at least one of them today to the next listening challenge you face.