- Why Do We Listen?
- Flat-lining Conversations
- Listening As-if Your Life Depended On It
- Increasing the Value of Your Time Spent Listening
In order to communicate effectively, we just need to listen. As much as we may like to hear ourselves talk, it is the first reflections by our listening partner, whether a single person or an audience of thousands, that determine whether what we are saying is getting through, or politely being heard, but not necessarily understood. Listeners also need to want to listen. The motive that drives active listening could be psychological, emotional, technical, educational, financial, or even spiritual and metaphysical in nature. But divining the purpose behind the listening is later on during the conversation. For now, we need to start somewhere, and that place is the beginning of any communication – the introduction.
Sometimes it is as simple as saying, “Hello.” But often that is met in return by an automatically polite response of another, “Hello.” Or, “Hi.” Notice how that sort of puts the conversation right back to where it started? The communication became a statement without an action, like saying, “I’m here.” And, “I am too.” Gets nowhere pretty quickly.
The same situation happens with the opening, “Hi, how are you doing?” if the respondent replies, “Fine.” If you left the conversation there, it’s already dead. Taking that one step further, let’s say the respondent is engaged in the conversation and replies, “Fine. And how are you?” If you replied to that with, “Fine.” Voila’, another dead conversation.
How do we fix this situation? You could read any number of books on etiquette, communication arts, or even dating and memorize a bunch of static conversation starters, but since we like getting to the point, it’s about listening – Active Listening. In order to have active listening, we have to care about the communication being sent. We have to have a vested interest in hearing and understanding what is being said. Strangely enough – that interest or motivation does not have to just be compassion (though it’s a nice place to start.) Sometimes we listen because of fear, such as cases where, if we make a mistake in listening, it costs us something whether financial, emotional, or even physical.So when appearing in court before a judge, or a doctor talking to us about a disease or problem that’s been diagnosed, we tend to listen much more carefully than if the motivation were more cosmetic or political in nature.
We learned (at Guitar Center) that when a person comes in the door, there’s a purpose for their visit, and our job was to figure out what that person’s motivation was – and if at all practicable, meet it by selling them something, or providing a service. So, we’d start with the usual, “Hi,” but quickly follow that with something that would lead to giving us more information about the person’s motivation. That follow up was not always verbal (some people are naturally less talkative than others) so we also learned to observe behavior (Where in the room is the person looking? Are they touching particular items with interest? Does the way they are dressed give us any clues as to why they are here?) Asking yourself, “Why are they here?” helps frame your own intent in the conversation.
For any interaction, if you start valuing the time involved, for both yourself as well as the other person, you start realizing the precious value of time and especially in service industries, when there are many people to serve, wasting time on chatty smalltalk not only wastes the time of the other people in the conversation, but leaves everyone else waiting. They might need even more answers, or create the most frustrating situation, when someone just wants to get their transaction over with, and the service person is tied up in a lengthy talk with someone who will take hours if given the opportunity.
Your best interests are served for both of you in a conversation to become aware of what the other person needs, assess the situation with efficiency and determine an actionable path of solution. How many times have you encountered a conversation which started off with an innocent, “How are you doing?” and the other person immediately launches into a non-stop description of their problems, situation, troubles, tribulations and didn’t take a breath to ask if you actually were ready to listen to that? Think about which words you are choosing during introductions, as there is often an implied nature to these innocuous commonly chatty ways to start a conversation, but the key to changing the value in these conversations is to start with words much closer to your intent.
We were trained to become acutely aware when someone randomly came in and wanted to basically either tap all of our knowledge by asking every conceivable question, or was there to basically “vent.” And if the time wasn’t appropriate to entertain such a conversation (whether we didn’t have the immediate patience to listen at the time, or there were too many other people waiting for our attention), we halted everything and set up an appointment in the future where we could reserve time to go through all the details needed (and pay the proper amount of attention to the person’s needs.)
As you begin opening your awareness to how other people communicate with you, you might find yourself being surrounded by more and more people seeking your advice or counsel, or simply looking for someone to listen. Try not to sacrifice your own valuable time and quality of presence by feeling as though you need to make up for listening quality with lengthy listening quantity. Develop your deep and thorough listening skills – listening with intent. At some point, your ability to listen may have more impact in another person’s life than your ability to talk.