Today’s quote from the Jack’s Winning Words blog is -“You can’t fake listening. It shows.” (Raquel Welch)
A corollary to that might well be – “When you listen, do it for the sake of understanding and not just to build a reply” – as seen on various motivational sites.
The point of both is to focus upon really listening to the other person. I’m sure that most of us have faked listening to someone, perhaps our parents or a teacher or some other authority figure. They usually catch on and we get the question, “Did you hear what I just said?” Most people answer, “Yes, I heard you”; but, were they really listening to what was said or just hearing the noises that we call speech? Most don’t appreciate how obvious their lack of attention is to the other party. It shows.
I must admit to being guilty of the second little quote more often that I’d like. It is the distraction of concentrating on a retort that causes one to interrupt the other person by starting the reply before they are finished with their initial thought. It’s rude and shows a lack of respect for them, but it happens all the time. You see this behavior a lot on TV when two or more people with differing views are placed together and asked about a topic that they disagree about. Often is just becomes a shouting match as each tries to jump in and make a point before the other has finished a thought. We have become a nation where raising the volume of out comments is somehow associated with making them more important or believable.
I’ve met a few very good listeners and it is interesting to watch them in conversational settings. Probably one of the best listeners that I’ve met is Pastor Doug McMunn of the Milford United Methodist Church. If you are ever in a conversation with him you can just see that he is listening – it’s that obvious.Just as you can tell when someone is faking it, you can also see the level of effort being put forth by a good listener to make sure that they are hearing and understanding your words and the thoughts behind them. Good listeners are almost always very good questioners, too. Since they have focused upon what was being said, they are able to pick out the points that might need clarification or expansion. Bad listeners most often miss those points and may draw bad conclusions or jump to bad decisions based upon their partial understanding of what was said (or what they think that they heard).
So, what can you do to become a better listener?
- The most important thing, I believe is to commit that you will focus on what is being said for the time it takes; that you will not let your mind wander off into formulating your reply or your next question; but rather take in what is being said in the current moment and focus upon understanding it. One very important way to do that is to focus your eyes on the speaker. It is harder to become distracted if you are looking intently at the speaker. Don’t get creepy about it, but don’t start looking around the room at other people or things.
- Try to pick out and organize in your mind the salient points that the speaker is trying to make. Conversational speaking almost always includes verbal fillers -“You Know” – or verbal pauses and bridges that may tend to obscure the thought that the speaker is trying to get across and sometimes it takes considerable effort to cut through that clutter to get tot eh central points that the speaker is trying to get across. Stop the speaker and ask for clarification if something that was just said doesn’t make sense to your or perhaps you just didn’t understand it.
- Let the speaker finish their thoughts before you jump in with any reply. Most conversations have natural points at which a speaker will stop, because they have finished as are now turning the floor over to you for comments or replies. They may even provide you with the verbal clue that it is your turn to speak by asking, “What do you think?”
It’s at that point that you may need to take a few seconds to digest what they have said and formulate your reply or questions. Just that short pause to reflect on their words will let them know that you were really listening. Not all comments require a response or further questions; so saying something like, “Well I understand where you’re coming from on that and I’ll have to think about it” is as good of a reply as any. Other non-committal retorts might include “Well I didn’t realize until now that you felt that way. I’ll have to think about it” or perhaps, “I didn’t know that and I’ll have to look into it further.” Of course there’s always the old stand-by , “Thanks for sharing that with me.”
Being a good listener is a commitment to discipline that you have to make for yourself. It takes discipline to stay focused, but you owe that focus to the speaker just as much as you would want them to focus upon what you might have to say. Your time and theirs are both important, so don’t waste either. Be a good listener to what they have to say and hopefully they will replay your efforts by listening well to your thoughts, too.
Have a great day and listen up people…