By Guest Blogger Kate Steinbacher of Coaches Console
“We have two ears and one mouth to let us know that we should listen twice as much as we speak.” -Anonymous
One of the most important skills to develop in life is the ability to listen. Listening is not only about the words, but also about meanings spoken and not spoken, the tone of the voice, the speed with which people express themselves, the breathing patterns and the volume and words that are chosen. Each aspect brings something to the table of understanding and learning.
Becoming a good listener can improve your employment, promotion and relationship opportunities.
Everyone wants to be heard. We all have opinions and ideas that benefit from a listener to help them grow to maturity. Sometimes it may be that it helps us feel respected or valued when we are heard by another. There are many varied reasons why being heard is important for us. Think about the people in your life and work. With whom would you rather be stranded on an island or any place for that matter: a thoughtful listener and communicator or one that speaks constantly and rarely takes a breath?
So how can we become better listeners and why will it impact our world of work positively. The how is not all that easy. Developing good listening skills requires two things: one, that we honestly recognize where we are on the good listener scale and begin to evaluate ourselves and two, that we break old listening habits that are not working and establish new ones that enhance our ability to communicate and learn.
Recognizing our listening habits that hinder requires the help of trusted colleagues and friends. These must be people from whom we can hear criticism. Rarely do we realize on our own that we are not listening. Ask these trusted people to evaluate your listening skills. Do they feel heard by you? Do they feel you value their input, ideas and stories? Ask them both why they do feel heard and valued and why they do not. Have you ever played the child’s game of Simon Says? It is all about listening.
One habit that may be recognized as hindering listening, especially when we are nervous, perhaps in an interview, might be that of finding ourselves thinking of how we will respond to the speaker instead of truly listening. We are so worried about our intelligent response that we can often completely miss what is being said. Another hindering habit is thinking of a similar story that we can relate. This habit can come across as one-upmanship. Can you relate to a time when you told a pretty good story or offered an insight, only to have your “listener” immediately tell a bigger story? When that happens, there can be a sense that the listener does not really care about us or what we have to share, they are only concerned about themselves. While this is not usually the listener’s intention, it can easily be misperceived in that negative manner.
Becoming a good listener involves evaluating ourselves with help from trusted friends, creating awareness, and replacing old habits with listening for the many aspects of what a person is trying to communicate. You will be amazed by what you will learn when you truly start listening.
Once you have discovered some of your listening traps, start your self-awareness campaign. When you notice yourself thinking of a response instead of listening, stop yourself mentally and open your ears and mind to what is being said. Realize that a good listener will be valued for taking a moment to consider what is being said and responding thoughtfully, not necessarily immediately.
So now that we have a clearer grasp of how to become better listeners, why might we want to do so? It is often in our best interest to have truly heard the information and to respond more slowly and thoughtfully. Think of times when you have said yes, committing yourself to a responsibility, and moments later could have kicked yourself for agreeing. What about being in an interview situation. Have you emerged from an interview and could not think of anything that they told you? You spent your energy telling them about yourself and probably selling yourself, but did you hear them? Do you have enough information to make a careful decision about accepting a position if they ask you? There are so many job seekers that do not listen and end up in a position that solves their problem of unemployment but they are underemployed, frustrated and unhappy. The same can apply to the opposite side of the desk with interviewers. Often, we tell the potential employee everything about the position and the person that should fill it and never really get to know who the candidate is and whether they will truly be a good match for the position and the company.
When we are good listeners we can have our minds opened to new ideas. We can learn fascinating things about the people around us thereby allowing us to attract and create valuable connections and relationships. We can make more informed and thoughtful decisions. We have two ears and one mouth for very good reasons!
Opportunity: Put together a team of trusted colleagues to discover your listening quotient. Create self-awareness around your listening. As a reminder, try using the acronym “WAIT”—Why Am I Talking?