How present are you in conversation? How often can you say that you are truly listening to what another person is saying? It’s tough. We have a million other things to think about – the car, the meeting at 11, booking accommodation for before it all gets booked up, what’s for dinner, how to squeeze that project into this impossible deadline…
And that’s just the beginning. Here are some of the mindsets (according to PsychCentral) we adopt in conversation that get right in the way of listening:
- I’m right, you’re wrong, and I’m going to prove it
- The problem is your fault, so I’ll just blame you instead of taking responsibility
- I’m a victim; nobody understands me
- I’ve decided about the kind of person you are, and you won’t budge me on it
- I don’t like what you’re saying about me, so I’m going to screw all my concentration into defending my honourable self
- You are trying to control or manipulate me; forget it!
- I deserve better!
- I want it now – and what I want is most important
- I know, I know! Pick me! I can help.
Can you identify with any of these mindsets? It’s hilarious when you think about it.
The underlying problem here is that we just don’t trust each other. The sad part is that if we tried, if we trusted each other enough to listen, we could learn so much.
If you spoke better, I’d listen better
Talkers can also take some responsibility: some people are just much easier to listen to than others. Those who think before they speak make the listener’s job much easier because their thoughts come out whole and in a logical sequence. A talker who formulates thought as it comes out of their mouth is easy to spot by their jumbled, bitty speech, which requires you, the listener, to work a lot harder to a) order the thoughts and b) work out what’s relevant and what’s not.
But we don’t have the luxury of being surrounded by eloquent, considerate speakers all our lives, so we’d better start polishing up those listening skills; even a scatty speaker has valuable things to express – they’re just disguised among a lot of extra words.
Listening skills are a competitive advantage and a must
Human-centred design is all about listening – it’s how we come to understand others and develop and practise real empathy, which is essential to understanding our customers and building brand loyalty. Today, if you’re not listening to your audience, you’re falling out of touch and into danger.
Despite listening being essential to building customer loyalty, shockingly few of us can actually do it effectively, which is good news if you’re trying to get ahead of the competition: all you have to do is listen. It really is that simple! Except, it’s harder than it sounds…
Practice makes better listeners
However, listening is a skill we can all practise and improve. Here are some tips on how to get better at listening (and better at understanding the humans you’re reaching out to so that you can meet their needs):
- Try really listening to someone’s answer to your run-of-the-mill question. Test yourself later in the day: What did Gill say when I asked her about her trip to Magaliesburg? Oh yes, she said she really enjoyed it: it was the first time she and her husband had been away without the kids; she read a book the whole time and felt like the weekend was twice as long as usual. What can I take away from that? That going away without the kids and reading a book all weekend is a good way to make the weekend feel longer. #learning #informationsharing
- Leave a space in the conversation. Maybe in that space, the other person will offer up information that they might not otherwise have shared. This is hard, though; you’ll really be testing your comfort zone here. We are not at ease with silence, unless the other person is our life partner, family member or good friend – and even then… So you’ll be sorely tempted to jump in and say something about yourself. Stop. Wait. Let the other person continue. You may be surprised at what they say, and you will be surprised at your ability to keep quiet.
- Make a conscious decision to stop thinking about the thing you’re thinking about before you walk into a conversation; close a door in your head and open a new one. Start afresh. Engage. It’s not easy, but with practice, it will come.
- Instead of forming statements in your head about the other person or about what they’re saying, form questions: could it be true what they are saying? Wonder about it. Open your mind to other possibilities besides the one about you being right. You might learn something.
- Repeat back to someone what they have just expressed to you. Start by saying, “Okay, if I understand you correctly, what you’re saying is…” It’s a bit awkward at first, but once you get used to it, you may find it becomes a useful tool in listening and learning – and people appreciate being understood. It can also help you to avoid making decisions based on fiction, which, apart from being embarrassing, can be very bad for business.
Nobody’s trying to say that listening is an easy skill, but it’s one we sorely need more of. By listening to and understanding each other, we become a formidable force for progress that can tackle any challenge.
And if you can’t quite persuade yourself to see someone else’s point of view, try to remember this: who’s right and who’s wrong is less relevant than who’s buying and who’s selling…