Some Great Listening Tips!

Listen well and make friends and influence people! We all like to think we are good listeners. However, most of us tend to confuse hearing with listening and often we think we are listening when actually we’re thinking about what we want to say next. Hearing is a physical process- listening is a mental process.

Listening is critical to our everyday lives, yet during our early years we don’t actually spend a lot of time learning how to do it! It’s been estimated that 40% of the time in early school is spent learning how to read and 35% on learning how to write. Approximately 25% is spent learning how to talk and virtually no time at all is spent on learning how to listen or communicate! No wonder we occasionally need some help!

Bad Listening Habits

When I work one to one with individuals I often find the difficulties that they are experiencing arise from poor communication which stems from poor listening. We develop bad habits, particularly in intimate relationships with family and friends; we assume we know what they are going to say next. We ‘hear’ what we expect to hear. Have you ever had the same argument over and over when no one really listens to the other person because you know what they are going to say and they know what you are going to say and you both go round in inconclusive circles?

Or maybe you have spoken at length with a salesperson explaining what you are looking for, only to have them offer you something else? They have stopped listening once they think they have heard what you want and are mentally rehearsing their sales pitch for that product. Then they offer you something you don’t want and you walk away. Or worse, you actually buy it but never go back and never recommend them.

Personality Listening

Another poor listening habit is sometimes called ‘personality listening’, when we make a judgement based on what the speaker looks and sounds like- we will not give them our full attention if we conclude they are not worth our time. Conversely, we might listen attentively because someone’s appearance leads us to think what they say may be of use to us, emphasising the importance of paying attention to all aspects of how your message is delivered.

Verbal, Vocal & Visual

Listening is not just about interpreting the spoken words. A good listener reads the entire message presented to him or her. That message divides into three categories and has been researched by Professor Mehrabian. He found that words actually counted for only 7% of the total message being believed, with the tone and sound of the voice at 38%, and a huge 55% attributed to all the non verbal things that we receive like body language, posture, and the overall look. If the body language and facial expression does not match up with the words, is incongruent, the message is less likely to be believed. Body language over rides the words.

Develop Your Skills

To develop your listening skills you must first decide to listen. Despite all the talk about multi-tasking we know that if you want to do a task really well you should only do one thing at a time.  Sometimes you needto take the time to listen properly. If someone wants to talk to you but you are short of time, tell them you only have five minutes, but then give those five minutes freely. Don’t potter around packing your bag, tidying up, and checking your watch, but do sit or stand opposite them, making appropriate eye contact, looking at them and not letting your gaze wander. Let them have your full attention for those important five minutes. You can signal your intention to close the conversation by summarising what they have said after four minutes and, if you are unable to respond immediately, let them know when you will give them a proper response. If you do not listen well you will usually find that the encounter is prolonged as the speaker tries again and again to get their point across!

You can show people you are listening with a smile or a nod of encouragement for them to continue, (there are some very interesting differences between genders). Ask some questions about what they have said to make sure that you understand, maybe using an experience of your own to check out your understanding, but don’t start your own anecdote or response until they have finished. Make sure that you are responding first to what they have actually said and not just jumping in with your own contribution.

Listen in all respects. Does the pitch or timbre of their voice change at certain points? Are they using lots of feeling type words? Do they look relaxed or agitated? Are they telling you something through their body language, their eye contact? Sometimes people are unaware that their body is telling a story too.

Don’t Interrupt

Listening well means letting people get to the end of what they want to say. We all interrupt from time to time and in normal day to day conversation this can be fine. But if you really want to improve the quality of your listening practise not interrupting. Staying silent is a powerful tool and you will be surprised how much more information you will get and how good it makes the other person feel to be listened to attentively.

We make these errors because listening well is a skill; it’s not just passively receiving information. When we’re listening we should be trying to understand what the other person is saying. A simple test is to ask yourself before replying, can I accurately paraphrase what they have just said? If you can’t, you probably haven’t been listening.

Listen to Your Customers/Clients

Developing your listening skills will help you in all areas of your life. People love being listened to and they love good listeners. Listening to your customers or clients is vital. Whatever the service you offer, you will have a poor response if you offer them something inappropriate for their needs, or misunderstand what they are telling you. They will feel disrespected and ignored, and are unlikely to be repeat customers or recommend your services to others. But if you give them what they want- happiness all round.

In this world of fast and instant communication with text messages and Emails the norm it is even more of an asset to know how to listen. Good quality listening will mean you get better quality information, it will save you time, and it will enhance your professional skills. Try it out, and as usual, do let me know how you get on!

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Posted on February 2nd, 2009 by

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