Being a Good Listener
It is widely understood that listening is an important skill in a wide range of activities. To be a great leader or manager, you must be a good listener. To be a good salesperson, you must learn to listen to the needs of your customer or client. To be a good teacher, you must listen to the feedback from your class. To be a good parent, you must listen to the questions from your children. Listening is especially important in being a good spouse.
Listening seems to be a simple task but many time it seems to become an ineffective skill. There are the barriers which occur in our environment and within our heads which interfere. One could make a long list of them but let’s consider a few.
Your Mood While Listening
You have been up all night with sick children and you finally get them off to bed and you are on your way to work. On the way, your car breaks down and you have to be towed to the shop. You arrive one hour late and there is a line outside your door to talk to you. Are you ready to listen? Of course not.
A great golfer learns quickly to forget the last shot. How can you salvage a good round after you have had a triple bogie? They have learned to understand that they cannot continue in a negative mood and be successful. Emotions need to be brought under control.
So you arrive in the parking lot by cab and begin to go into your office. As you walk to the door, you need to bring your emotions into control. The golfer learns to cope by turning his negative thoughts more positive. He forgets the last shot and visualizes the birdie he had several holes back when he chipped it in from the fringe. You need to teach yourself the discipline to recognize your negative emotions and convert them into a positive. Thank god for the help you receive in rescuing your car or the fact that your spouse was able to stay home and care for the kids. By turning that negativity somewhat positive, you are better ready to listen to the first person in your office door.
Your Inner Voices
We all have many inner voices which interfere with being a good listener. We hear them in our head as one begins a conversation. You may have already come to an irreversible conclusion on the subject of the conversation. You may hear your boss in your head telling you that you need to complete the project quickly to stay on schedule. You may also have a low regard for the individual sending the message.
To overcome those inner voices, you first have to recognize that they exist. Psychologists will tell us that they exist in the limbic portions of our brain and interfere with the rational fusion of our brain. Unconscious thoughts, attitudes and prejudices exist in the limbic part of your head and interfere with the processing in the rational function. Here one needs to develop the emotional intelligence to recognize this negative and put it aside to listen completely.
Focus on Listening
I once had a colleague who when I sat in his office having a conversation, would interrupt that conversation to answer a phone call. He believed he was “multi-tasking”. I also observed a manager who would read magazines during a staff meeting in which he was the chairperson. It has been proven that “multi-tasking” is not a sign of great intelligence. It usually results in a complete misunderstanding of the discussion and leads to poor decision making. In this case my colleague continuously make poor decisions. In the case, of the magazine reader, he was later shown the door.
It is important to focus your full attention on the sender of the information. Don’t be distracted. Don’t be looking out the window. Make continuous eye contact. One excellent way of focusing is to ask follow-up questions. Help them to clarify points with questions such as, “did you mean to say?” Being part of the conversation is an excellent way of listening and understanding.
Don’t Start Listening With the End in Mind
Too often we interrupt the speaker because we know where the conversation is going and we don’t want to waste time listening. It is rude and we may miss the point. Once you make this assumption, the conversation comes to an end because you stopped listening. Practice suppressing your limbic brain and exercising your rational side.
How would you define a good listener. We are often asked to facilitate a workshop on communications. It is a subject that is often taken for granted, but can be the source of organizational and business issues. During those session, we introduce the subject of Emotional Intelligence. We encourage you to read some of our articles and several books on the subject.