Listen Up! It’s Loud Out There

“The best solutions are often formed as a culmination of many ideas offered by lots of people.  If you’re not paying attention, think about what you might miss.” Karen McCullough

YOU: Excuse me boss, do you have a second?  I have an idea that might….

THE BOSS: Sure, oh… wait- here’s an important text

YOU: No problem.

THE BOSS: Okay, back to you. What a call- it’s my wife- I need to check it out! Okay, back to you.

YOU: Well, I was thinking that….

THE BOSS: Hey somebody…that customer is trying to get someone’s attention.

YOU: Sure, I can wait.

THE BOSS: Okay, back to you.

YOU:  I think I’ve lost my train of thought.  Let’s talk again some other time when things aren’t so hectic.

Sound familiar?

It’s loud out there, and chances are, you – and others around you – are distracted.  Your smart phone is buzzing, pinging, texting, tweeting, and ringing. The person in front of you in line at Costco has on head phones and playing air guitar; no eye contact happening here.  XM music is playing in the background and the flat screens across the way are showing news from the Middle East, college football games, Finding Nemo and everyone seems to be yelling into their Bluetooth’s.

It’s just too much noise and sadly we are tuning out!  Do you ever find yourself looking face to face with a friend, a colleague, and at times even a customer –  they’re talking, and all you hear is, “Blah, Blah, Blah,” like the teacher in the Charlie Brown specials?

If you find that you are tuning people out, it’s time to stop.  No, I didn’t say hit pause, I said stop.  It’s time to learn how to LISTEN UP!  Your skills as a listener can make or break your success in business and your life.

Many of us don’t consciously realize that listening is a critical component in the communications loop and that it takes skill.   We think listening just happens, that it doesn’t involve practice, and that we don’t need to make an effort to effectively hear what people are saying.  Talking – not listening – is important, and in many cases we are thinking not about what someone is telling us, but what we’re going to say when they finally stop talking.

Another listening issue is caused by our inflated egos.  According to a recent study by the Harvard Business Review, people think that the voice mail they send is more important than the voice mail they receive.  Generally, senders think that their message is more helpful and urgent than do the people who receive it.  Just think of all we’re missing when we see ourselves as the only one with the good ideas.

If we are to learn from others, we need to optimize our communication skills by effectively closing the conversation loop, and to do that we need to elevate the important of listening.  Let’s start by calling listening Active Listening.  According to Wikipedia, Active Listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what they hear.  Active Listening can also be viewed as a gift (honoring the other person by giving our time and attention) as well as a skill to be mastered.

Here are some steps to becoming an Active Listener. (Or bring Karen in Live)

1. Stop talking. You can’t multitask speaking and listening.  It’s impossible.  When you are talking, you are not listening.  And this also applies to that little voice talking inside your head.  (I know for a fact that we women have more than one voice inside our head….  We have an entire committee chatting it up! )  So Rule #1 is to Stop the Talking!

2. Look at the person who is talking. Take time to notice their facial expression and their body language. We gather more information from non-verbal signs and tone of voice than we do from a person’s actual words. Active listening requires an understanding of what someone is saying with their gestures, eye contact, tone of voice as well as their words.

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” Peter Drucker

3. Focus and eliminate distractions. Turn off the cell phone and the TV, and put down the iPad.  When you interrupt someone to check your messages, you are sending a signal that you are not interested in what they have to say.  Stop  multitasking while pretending to listen. How many times have you been on the phone with one person and sending an e-mail to someone else?

4. Don’t make assumptions, jump to conclusions, or react before the speaker has had a chance to express herself.  Don’t try to solve the problem before they have completed presenting their issue.

5.  Don’t finish the other person’s sentences. Wait until the speaker is finished talking before deciding if you agree or disagree.  Don’t try to solve the problem or come up with the answer while the speaker is still talking.

6. Ask good questions. Learn how to create thought-provoking conversation that relates to the speaker’s topic.  Ask meaningful questions that get to the heart of the matter.  A good question gets the speaker to think more deeply and can expand the conversation. Ask questions that start with how or why to really get them to elaborate. Once you get them to open up paraphrasing and summarizing what they have said will demonstrate that you are listening to them. You might even want to take notes during your interaction, this will force you to listen well and show the boss or sales prospect that you care enough to write down what they are saying.

7. Ask for feedback. The opportunity to give and receive feedback allows us to give guidance and make adjustments .  Feedback helps make sure that all parties are hearing the same message and eases miscommunication.

8.  Repeat what people say. Offering a comment like, “Let me be sure I understand what you’re saying. You’re saying that…?” helps  prevent misunderstandings and show that you are really listening.

Practicing active listening skills will transform your interaction with others, generating solutions and ideas born of creativity and collaboration and enriching your business, social connections and life in general.  By honoring others with your time and attention you will certainly energize the conversation, be more productive, reduce errors,  sell more, be more innovative, come up with ideas and solutions that you’d never find on your own and have more friends and a better love life…

not bad for just listening…huh?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.