Listening Skills aka Please Stop Talking So I Can Talk

 Sounds easy doesn't it... it isn't. If it were easy, we'd all have great listening Skills. We don't.

If you are talking with someone and they’re checking email, Facebook, or my favorite—looking at their phone; how does that make you feel? Or maybe they’re looking at someone across the room or out the window; anywhere but at you. Even if they are looking your way, you can tell their mind is busy formulating what they are going to say next and waiting for you to stop, or at least take a breath.

Not Listening Creates Problems

Taken in the context of work, not listening can be disastrous. The boss says,

wait to send out the proposal

What I hear is

Send out the proposal

So I do, oops! And I only missed one little word, "wait!" There's a big difference between listening and waiting for your turn to talk.

 They're Talking, and You're in Mexico

Here’s a good example of not listening: a friend tells you they just back got from Mexico. Your first thought,“I’ve been to Mexico!” and your mind is off and running.  You mentally recall the Pina Coladas, the ocean view, the doorman who recommended the great restaurant, the waiter who messed up your order, the wonderful ceviche and the tilapia that finally arrived at your table and oh, that desert; what was it called?

Oh look, your friend is still talking.

And then there was the night you went to that great casino in Mexico. It’s all coming back—you wore that fabulous new dress. Bob won $650 and blah, blah, blah.

Oh, they’re still talking… and you’ve heard none of it.

You get the point.

We All Have Opportunities to Improve

Think about a friend or acquaintance who is a really good listener. I can think of only a handful of people—maybe 5 or 6 if I push it—whose listening skills are consistently exceptional. When I talk I know they’ve heard me and more importantly understand every word I’ve said.

How do I know this? Because good listeners:

  • maintain eye contact at a comfortable level
  • are relaxed and patient
  • have cleared their mind and are focused on what I am saying
  • keep interruptions ta a minimum and only to clarify a point.

You Are Important Because I Listen

Active listeners are not thinking about getting Joey to his soccer practice, the high quote the painter gave for the bathroom or what’s on Netflix. They’ve cleared their mind and are focused on what I am saying. They don't interrupt, because they know interruptions mid-sentence say one thing, “what you’re saying is not as important as what I’m waiting to say”.

In a small, insidious way; it invalidates the speaker and what they are trying to tell you. Interrupting literally says “I am not interested in what you have to say” and taking that a step further, it says “you are not important”.

I am not interested in what you have to say

We Remember How People Make Us Feel

I have a friend who puts everyone at ease because of his incredible listening skills. He always...

  • Maintains eye contact
  • uses body language which is calm and relaxed
  • never fidgets or gets preoccupied
  • never interrupts
  • always addresses what has just been said, or asked

And, none of this has anything to do with our friendship; he’s this way with everyone.

Research says, that people may not remember anything about you, except how you made them feel. In other words, they don’t remember where they were, what they were doing, what you said or even what you looked like; but they remember how you made them feel—and listening is huge part of that.

My Invitation to Up Your Listening Skills

So I am inviting you to try this out; first, notice how people listen to you. No judgment, they’re probably unaware how they come across, just notice what works and what doesn’t. Second, pay attention to how you listen; are you a respectful listener? Do you make eye contact or are your eyes wandering off somewhere else? Are you engaged? Are you a patient listener or is your mind racing?

In my experience, the majority of people have “an opportunity to improve” their listening skills. Mine however are really...uh…like I said, we all have an opportunity to improve.

Four Ways to Be a Better Listening: Kristi Hedges; Forbes

About the Author

Sarah’s latest book published by McGraw-Hill is titled Business Improv. It includes 75 activities on all aspect of business from Leadership skills to Emotional Intelligence. Sarah’s Business Improvisation based approach to learning has transformed work environments, changed lives and moved organisations forward. Her experience with the challenges leaders face allows her to help develop strategies and implementation plans that transform leaders into storytellers that move people to action. Her work with front line employees helps them communicate in a way that builds trust and collaboration. Sarah has taught Business Leadership to Executive MBA students at UCLA Anderson School of Management, Duke University Fuqua School of Business, Columbia University and the American University Cairo.

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