Are You Listening
December 7, 2016
I talk a lot about valuing and building respect—it is a vitally important intangible that is easy to talk about but much harder to measure, hard to build, and even harder to reclaim once lost.
One key element to earning respect is the act of listening. Bryant H. McGill, a nationally recognized author and speaker who Inc. Magazine labeled as “[one of] the greatest leaders, writers and thinkers of all time,” believes that “one of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”
One of the first lessons we are taught in kindergarten is to listen, but somewhere between those early formative years and when we become adults, many of us seem to forget that lesson. Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler Corporation, said, "I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions."
It is important to remember that listening is not passive. Listening is an act; it is hearing what is being said, understanding the information, and drawing connections, which allows the listener to remember and, finally, respond to what was said.
I’m not going to explore why we have become poor listeners; instead I want to focus in honing our listening skills to be better listeners. There are four specific actions you can take to become a better listener:
Tune out the distractions—Commit to listening to the person speaking. E.g., don’t watch who is walking by or focus on other conversations, but look at the person who is speaking, and put down your cell phone.
Actively listen—Keep you eyes focused on the person speaking; don’t look tired or bored. Sit up straight to demonstrate your interest. Pay attention to your nonverbal cues and avoid making faces, etc., that may convey boredom or judgment.
Do not interrupt—If there are more than two people, it is very distracting when two people are speaking over one another. Let the other person speak and follow-up when he or she has concluded. If there is a need to interrupt, then excuse yourself. “May I interrupt for a moment…”
Repeat and clarify—By repeating what has been said, the other person(s) will know you were listening and that you understood. If there is confusion, you have created an opportunity to clarify.
I challenge you to spend the next few days reflecting on your listening skills. Observe yourself as a listener and ask yourself: How well did I listen during that conversation? How many times did I check my phone? How often did I interrupt? Pinpoint which of the above actions will be most beneficial to you and practice it. You may need to work on two, three, or even all of them.
Enjoy the rest of your week and listen well.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Director, Graduate Programs