As much as we love to hear ourselves, there is a skill, a true gift, that is as much – or even more – important to the art of communications. Listening. It takes a moment and it’s a gift that keeps on giving.
In many cases, we get caught up in thinking about what we want to say—for whatever reason—that we often misread a conversation or situation. Thus, the kernel of misunderstanding is born. Think of the power of Fake News or partisan politics…it’s rife with the art of “not listening.” If 2016 taught us one thing, it is this: we all have opinions and be dammed to those who don’t agree! (Or so it seems if you read any social media feed.)
Unfortunately, we can get so caught up proving our own intellectual prowess, that we can miss gigantic reams of important data and facts.
What you want to say is important. But so is what your conversation partner wants say.
When I am training executives to be more effective in media interviews, I spend a great deal of time discussing and practicing listening skills. Often, we tend to passively listen. You know what I mean. How many times have you sat down with a friend or colleague to discuss something and they pick up their cell phone? We are a nation of distracted listeners.
- Distracted by our cell phones and our computers
- Worried about what’s for lunch or the fight we had at home
- Our distractions seem endless.
Watch the venerable “news” expert panels on CNN or any number of all-news network and you see one expert talk over the other. Many times, they don’t even realize that they are shrieking out the same facts under different shades of gray. It can get downright embarrassing to watch as one refuses to hear the other and tries to out shout them – 2016 may go down as the year that the art of debate died.
In addition, we focus on what we want to say in response before the question is even finished!
Watch an episode of Family Feud or Jeopardy—or just about any game show. You will see examples–the emcee starts to ask the question and the contestant hits the buzzer too quickly. They must answer but, since they don’t hear the full question, they have a high probability that they will be wrong.
That’s what we do in conversation.
- We hear the first part of the question and immediately start to formulate our answers.
- We strive to be clever, to highlight just how smart we are.
- But how smart can you be when you only get half the information?
You could say we are distracted by our own thoughts.
Once you understand how distracted listening is counterproductive, it is easier to learn to be attentive–to respond to your conversation partner so they know you are interested and to clear hear what they are saying. You might nod your head or respond with “Mm-hmm” to convey you hear them. But more important, you will hear the full gist of their inquiry and be better able to answer their need.
It won’t take long to see the value you add to any discussion when you hear both sides. It’s a gift you can give yourself as well as your conversation partner.
Here’s to a year of active listening!