My wife is always telling me, “I told you that last week. You don’t listen to me.”
Several years ago in the middle of one of these arguments I blurted out, “Was I looking at you when you said that?” to which she replied, “Actually I don’t think you were.” I then said to my wife, “Well I probably didn’t hearyou then.”
That one conversation in the heat of the moment could not have been more truthful about the way we interact with our spouses, our children, and even our business associates and clients. In an effort to help my readers of this blog, I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned about “listening”.
Make sure they are looking at you. After many years of marriage, my wife finally figured out that I get easily distracted or have many other things going on in my mind. If she has something important and wants me to “hear” her, she’d better make sure I’m actually looking at her when she’s talking. If I’m looking at her, then it’s more likely that I’m truly engaged in the conversation.
Put down the phone. Have you ever been trying to have a conversation with a friend or coworker while they’re looking at their phone? We like to think we can multi-task, but don’t believe the hype. New research shows that we humans aren’t as good as we think we are at doing several things at once. If someone is looking at their phone, that means they’re using at least a little brain power to focus on the phone and probably less brain power to focus on what you’re saying. In these cases, simply say to your friend, “I have something important to tell you so I’m going to wait until you’re finished there and then I’ll speak with you.”
Practice “Active Listening”. Several years ago, my good friend Ed Fenn who was a Christian counselor, told me about “active listening”. Active listening is a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker. The listener must take great care to truly focus on the speaker fully (without speaking), and then repeats, in the listener’s own words, what he or she thinks the speaker has said. The listener does not have to agree with the speaker—he or she must simply state what they think the speaker just said. This enables the speaker to find out whether the listener really understood. If the listener did not, the speaker can explain some more.
My wife and I now use this all the time with each other and it saves us a lot of wasted time with misunderstanding. Recently while having a serious discussion, my wife said to me, “Ok, now repeat back to me what I just said.” I repeated back to her word for word what she just told me and then she replied, “OK, now you understand.” To be honest, I didn’t agree with what she told me, but at least she knew I heard her so we could move on with the conversation.
Don’t think ahead. A seller client I met with the other day just bought his house two years ago. He interviewed several agents and after telling me I got the job, I asked him a question. I said, “You just bought this house two years ago. Do you remember who your previous agent was?” He said, “Sure I do. He was a nice guy and seemed to be very experienced, but I’m not going to use him because he was a poor communicator; specifically he didn’t listen very well.”
After further probing it turns out this Realtor was constantly “talking over” his client. When the client would speak, the agent would immediately cut him off and tell his client “the answer”. We’re all guilty of this. While someone is talking we are formulating a response in our head about what we’re going to say next. We don’t mean to do it, but it means we’re not listening to what the speaker is saying, or at least that’s how it’s perceived. Many businesses have lost millions of dollars because of poor listening skills.
In researching this article, I stumbled across an article in the Harvard Business Review. They were interviewing several top business executives and one of them made the statement, “It’s interesting to me that we have considered so many facets of communication in the company, but have inadvertently overlooked listening. I’ve about decided that it’s the most important link in the company’s communications, and it’s obviously also the weakest one.”