The Art of Listening – Part One

mouth taped shutI really do think listening is an art, a skill, a forgotten practice in today’s world. One of my favorite lines is courtesy of Sawyer Brown in the song Small Talk: “You got two ears boy and just one tongue • He said the reason why were made that way • We got more to learn then we have to say”. Great band, great song – great message.

Before we can point the finger to someone not listening to us, we should first assess whether we are in fact practicing this nasty habit ourselves. When you talk to people do you find yourself interrupting them? Do you dominate the conversation? Do your friends even have a chance to speak? If you walk away from the conversation and cannot remember a thing your friend said, you my dear, are a bad listener! I have been a bad listener at times, we have all have, so I am not throwing stones here. If we do it to our friends there is a good chance you have bad habits that can come across in networking or interviewing. Habits have a way of coming out.

When you ask someone a question, do them and yourself a favor and shut up. Take a chance, a real chance, to listen to their answer. Bite your tongue if you have to, pinch yourself if you feel the absolute need to interrupt. You should not be thinking about what you want to say next when they are in the middle of talking and have to burst into verbal diarrhea while they are speaking. Seriously, just shut your mouth, listen and watch. Watch their body language, watch their hand gestures, watch their eyes – are they narrowing, closing, or rolling their eyes, are they crossing their arms in front of their chest or throwing up their hands? If you answer yes to any of these then very likely you are ticking them off by not listening.

Here’s another clue – their responses are getting shorter and shorter until it is a simple yes or no. Do you know why they are doing this? Because you will not shut up and let them talk. They might be able to get one word in, t is harder to interrupt one word answers. Also, they realize you are not listening and therefore do not care about what they are saying, so why give their thoughts – they are only falling on deaf ears.

There are times that you ask a question and something they say sparks an immediate thought, I understand that, but for goodness sakes fight the urge to spew it out! Make a mental note or even jot it down, but stay focused on the person talking. One of the most disrespectful things you can do to another person is to not listen to them. I mean really listen. Just shaking your head and saying, “uh huh” is fake listening and it is rude.

Every now and then my boys will fake listen. I simply stop in the middle of what I am saying and ask if they were listening. Of course the answer is always and exacerbated “yes!” So my next question is “then what did I say?” If they simply spit it right back to me in the words I used, my next question is “what did I mean?” They hate this, so they are being made to listen better. Can you pass this test? Honestly?

The best way to polish up on your listening skills is a simple practice. The next time you are having a conversation, once the other person speaks try this, “So what I heard you say is…” or “So, do you mean this…” and repeat back what you think you heard. It not only helps make sure you are truly listening, but it also shows respect to your speaking partner that you are taking an interest in what they say. A little respect goes a long, long way…

Lisa K McDonald

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