Seth Godin wrote a nice little post about active listening recently, and something he wrote really struck a nerve with me:
“The kind of listening we’re trained to do in school and at work is passive listening…Figure out what’s going to be on the test and ignore the rest.”
I got through school by doing exactly that. I’m pretty decent at figuring out what is going to be on a test.
Active listening is a skill taught to all social workers, counselors, and even some doctors, but it is rarely taught to business professionals. In fact, we spend a ton more time thinking about what we are going to say next, rather than listening to the other person speaking. I could spend this post talking about why that isn’t the best way to communicate (or you could read this – another recent article about active listening via the Huffington Post). But instead, let’s focus on how we can improve.
Three realistic ways to practice being a better listener:
- Practice having uninterrupted conversations. Turn off the radio in the car when you carpool with your spouse. Pocket your iPhone on the elevator while you chat about the weather with your coworkers. These conversations may be completely mundane and therefore invite multitasking, but if you can slowly break that habit, overtime your brain will learn to actually pay attention to the task at hand… and you’ll listen more effectively in important situations. This will not happen over night, but try picking one area of your life where you can remove interruptions. I bet after a month you won’t even reach for your phone as the elevator door closes.
- If the conversation is important, then the setting should be important too. I know open floor plans are designed so coworkers will have open discussions, etc, but notice how the conversation changes if you move to an office, a conference room, or even those empty chairs in the lobby. Take the time to get the other person a cup of coffee before you sit down. You’ll be setting the tone for the conversation and reminding your brain that “hey, this is worth listening to.”
- Think of yourself as a negotiator, even when you aren’t negotiating. The best negotiators always make sure they have a clear picture of what the other side wants. It is almost impossible to gather that information if you aren’t listening. And if you aren’t clear on what the other person is saying, repeat it back and clarify. If you get into the habit of always clarifying what the other person is saying, over time you will begin to actively listen before you craft your own response.
If you know of a great podcast, book, or other resource on active listening, please share it below!