When you listen to a co-worker, client, family member, or friend...what do you listen for?
I know you may not be consciously aware of your goal each time someone starts to speak but what you choose to listen for can determine whether you bring out the best or worst in the people you lead and love. This is true whether you're with a group of people in a conference room or in a one-on-one conversation in your living room.
"More and more I've come to understand that listening is one of the most important things we can do for one another. Whether the other be an adult or a child, our engagement in listening to that person can often be our greatest gift...if we care, we can listen." Fred Rogers
Every leader, salesperson or parent I've ever worked with agrees that listening is extremely important and yet few people actually practice listening for how they can help another person feel heard and valued. Instead, too many people look for opportunities to stop listening and start talking.
Unfortunately, the listening role-models in our society are disappearing and being replaced by celebrities on the TV and Radio News and Sports Stations. Those outlets recruit hosts and guests who confidently and continuously shout at each other using only the facts that support their opinions. It appears as if the goal is to listen for uncommon ground. While some may find that formula entertaining, no one ever leaves those interactions with a new point of view, a stronger relationship or an innovative "win win" solution to a problem that needs to be solved.
Will Rogers observed a similar phenomenon in our Government years ago when he said this about elected officials... "Congress is so strange. Someone stands up to speak. No one listens, then everyone disagrees."
How are you doing when it comes to really listening to the people you work with, live with and serve? When was the last time you had a conversation with someone regarding work, politics or any subject for that matter where you listened for new ideas that changed your perspective? Compare those experiences with the number of times you listened for opportunities to convince someone your opinion was correct.
One of the reasons it's so challenging to listen is because our attention span keeps shrinking and as a result our minds automatically wonder, to our area of interest, the moment someone starts to talk about what's important to them.
The latest research suggest we pay attention for about 8 seconds before we get distracted by another thought. It's no wonder that George Bernard Shaw said... "The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
The good news is you can become a better listener today than you were yesterday. All you have to do is practice. There is no other way to improve. Listening is like muscle, if you don't use it you lose it.
Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing some practical ideas for how you can practice improving your listening in all areas of our life. However, the first step in the process is to simply raise your awareness this week of when you start to stop listening. The quicker you notice you're not paying attention, the faster you can return to listening.
If you're a leader or parent and your goal is to bring out the best in the people around you, I encourage you to notice how often you listen for opportunities to give unsolicited advice when someone starts talking about a problem. No matter how good your solution might be, the people under your leadership need you to listen more and lecture less.
I read this poem years ago and it always reminds me to listen longer and when I do feel the need to speak, to end more of my sentences with a question mark instead of period.
Advice Is Not Listening
When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving advice, you have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.
Listen! All I ask is that you listen. Not talk or do...just hear me. And I can DO for myself; I'm not helpless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.
When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and weakness.
But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I quit trying to convince you and get about the business of understanding what's behind this irrational feeling. And when that's clear, the answers are obvious and I don't need advice.
So, please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn; and I'll listen to you.