Each time I have a class, I ask: How many of you are good listeners? Every hand goes up. But are we really listening? Or just hearing words?
Listening can have the biggest impact on your success. It sounds simple. And because it sounds so simple, we all believe we are good at it.
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
– Dalai Lama
Listening vs. Hearing: What’s the Difference?
In each of my classes, like the old telephone game, I tell a short story with a variety of details and pieces of information. One person then leaves the room and reads the story to another person privately. This process is repeated with about eight people.
The last person comes in to report what they were told: the story has changed, details are often left out (or added), and the context has altered.
Everyone knows they were being tested and gave it their best efforts. So, what happened?
Merriam-Webster defines hearing as:
The “process, function, or power of perceiving sound; specifically: the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli.”
Listening is defined as:
“To pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention; and to give consideration.”
Why can we be great at hearing – but not necessarily good at listening?
From my classes, I’ve learned the most common listening obstacles for most people are:
#1: Distractions. Historically, this is the top-ranked issue I have tracked – and one I’m willing to bet you can relate to. Our phones notify us about every little thing, and we are reachable by everyone 24/7. Our bodies are there – but our minds are somewhere else.
#2: Always planning your next move. You are thinking about what you want to say and waiting for your chance to say it.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
– Stephen R. Covey
While you are hearing, you are not listening; you are thinking about what you want to say next – it is not possible for you to pay thoughtful attention at the same time.
#3: Bias. Based on our thoughts, we judge whether the speaker is credible or not. It may even be subconscious, and these biases can play into our listening. These biases affect all of us: we may not like or agree with someone, and thereby listen with a different level of engagement.
#4: Judgments. We hear something that we immediately determine MEANS something to us. We decide that a person is either in the “right” bucket or the “wrong” bucket, generate our reactions, emotions and energy, and as a result, limit our ability to listen effectively.
#5: Making Assumptions. We are certain that we know what someone is going to say. We stop listening. This results in finishing people’s sentences out loud or in our own heads. This can be a dividing factor between people rather than a uniting one.
Learn the Art of Listening Loudly
The point of communicating is to share information, bring awareness to something, create an understanding between people, and educate for a purpose. If none of that is effectively occurring, then what is the point of communicating?
Communicating prevents you from being closed-minded. You can learn and grow from new information, new ideas, new opinions, beliefs, and perspectives. It is also aligned with the golden rule approach: I’m keenly aware of listening, so therefore I am very aware of when I am talking and someone is physically there – but not mentally present.
Simply by improving your listening skills you can:
- Make more money
- Achieve that promotion you’ve been hoping for
- Close the sale you’ve been working on for months
- Enjoy more fulfilling relationships in your life
- Build a stronger, higher quality team in your organization
A Great Leader is a Good Listener & Unites A Team
When I am listening at my best and fully engaged, I am a better leader. When I listen:
- My team knows they have been heard and understood.
- They feel recognized and respected – and are more willing to do the same.
- Our working relationship improves. There is greater communication.
- We don’t need to agree, but we can respect each other for who we are.
- There is more loyalty, dedication and commitment.
- This results in a more efficient use of everyone’s time.
- We can better address our goals.
- Together, we can deliver the best possible product or service to our customers.
To be a better listener:
#1: Quit multi-tasking. It creates distractions that can make each task take longer, be less effective and of lower quality.
#2: Stop Talking & Stop Thinking. Instead, just listen – fully, with all of yourself.
#3: Stop allowing your mind to judge and assume. When you notice that you have fallen into any of these traps, realize that you are distracted and no longer listening. Ask yourself why you are doing that.
“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”
– M. Scott Peck
Today, give listening a try – truly listen with all of yourself. Over time, the positive results just might surprise you in awesome ways.
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