The late Franklin P. Jones, long-time reporter and humourist for the Saturday Evening Post once said, “One advantage of talking to yourself is at least you know one person is listening.” It’s a point well taken.
I’m constantly amazed by how my wife and her friends can sit around a table and hold multiple conversations with one another while all talking simultaneously. It’s mind-boggling to me. I’m not sure how any of them can even comprehend what is being said when they’re all talking at the same time. Well, somehow they do; at least, that’s what my wife tells me.
But not everyone has super-human listening powers. Most often, the successful relationships we build in the workplace or in our personal lives are grounded in good, solid communication.
There are many ways to communicate and, with the advance of technology, we seem to have no end of innovative ways to connect with others. But putting technology aside, at its heart a conversation is built on talking and listening. Unfortunately, there seems to be more talking than listening.
Most of us think we actually listen well, but I can guarantee that your co-workers, friends, family or even you could use a little brush-up on listening.
I hope you’re all ears, because here are six ways to become a more effective listener:
1. Stop talking
I like to get right to the point. There is no better way to start a conversation than with one person talking and the other listening. Sounds simple enough, but with so much going on in our lives, reduced attention spans and a million thoughts racing in and out of our heads, conversations need some breathing room. Just relax, listen and enjoy.
2. Avoid distractions
Nothing gets in the way of listening better than a distraction. So put the techie toys down or shut them off so you can remain focused on what is being said. You may also want to keep that wandering eye in check. I’ll admit it takes discipline, but by reducing distractions, you can focus on what’s important.
3. Content is king
Train your brain to focus on the content. Listen attentively to what is being said, not who is saying it. This will allow you to understand the message, but also give you the chance to add value to the conversation with your responses.
4. Show empathy
Empathy is about caring and the best way to show it in a conversation is by being attentive, understanding and engaged with the people you are conversing with. Something as simple as nodding your head in agreement or asking a follow-up question is a sure-fire way to build on the conversation.
5. Don’t jump the gun
Focus on what is being said, not how you will respond. Often when we disagree with someone’s opinion we feel the need to interrupt and give them our thoughts immediately. Don’t do it. Let the other person finish. Your turn will come, but by showing respect and remaining focused on the content you’ll probably end up hearing things you would never had heard if you had jumped the gun.
6. Leverage your thought speed
I first heard of thought speed from the listening legend, Dr. Ralph Nichols. Nichols passed away in 2006 at the age of 96, but his legacy of work is the foundation of most of the research used in effective listening. His concept of thought speed can be found in his 1957 book, Are You Listening and in the many articles he wrote on the subject.
The idea is pretty simple. We spend a certain amount of time in listening mode when our minds wander. Thoughts run in and out of our heads as we listen to the other person talk. Nichols’ process is to use that time, or thought speed, to think and process the information more effectively and almost foresee what will come next.
Here are some of his suggestions:
- Try to anticipate what a person will say on the basis of what they have already said.
- Mentally summarize what the person has conveyed to you.
- Mentally question what the person is saying.
- Listen between the lines. Watch body language, listen for tone and inflection.
By leveraging your thought speed, your focus will be directly on the content of the conversation and you will be better prepared to respond. What’s more important, you’ll be 100% engaged in the conversation.
Effective listening is a skill. Practice makes perfect, but it’s practising the right way that makes it permanent.
I thought I had effective listening mastered, but my wife reminds me daily that I need some work. On that note, I am reminded of this quote from Frank Tyger: “Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble.”
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