“Effective listeners remember that “words have no meaning – people have meaning.” The assignment of meaning to a term is an internal process; meaning comes from inside us. And although our experiences, knowledge and attitudes differ, we often misinterpret each others’ messages while under the illusion that a common understanding has been achieved.” – Larry Barker
Today I participated in a test-run of a workshop on Active Listening. I was requested to attend to provide feedback on the overall flow and content of the learning module before it is released across the company. The idea was to compact key information on active/effective listening into a 20-30min block that can be spread around. It really got me thinking about how important the ability to really listen is, especially to the entrepreneur or leader aiming to create successful teams, networks, and relationships.
You’ve been there, well all have… “listening” to someone while your thoughts wander, or planning your response, waiting for them to shut it so you can speak about yourself or make your point. We’ve all fidgeted, gotten distracted, looked away, or played with the phone! Why is this? We know how to talk. We know how to hear. Those are easy. We can spend time, practice, and become good at talking with a purpose, or communicating. So why is listening such a big deal?
It appears that when we think about listening, we tend to assume it is basically the same as hearing, giving the impression that effective listening is instinctive. It is not and this line of thinking does nothing more than create all sorts of unnecessary problems: misunderstandings, hurt feelings, confused instructions, loss of important information, embarrassment, and frustration.
Effective listening is active listening. Listening is a learned skill that requires energy and discipline. When you really listen, you take in information from a speaker (be it in a meeting, in an auditorium, or across the table from you at lunch), without judgment, acknowledging the speaker with the goal of inviting more conversation/communication, while providing limited but encouraging input to help carry the speakers idea to the next point. I’ve heard it takes two to tango – seems that’s a great analogy for communication. You need both the speaker and the listener and the quality of the communication is dependent on the performance of those involved!
“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” – Ralph Nichols
Why is this just as good a skill to have for the entrepreneur or leader? Much of your life is filled with verbal communication. Good listening skills allow the other person to feel acknowledged and appreciated which tends to create an environment of trust, a sense of belonging, and a more positive interaction. If you create this environment for others, they are likely to more openly suggest ideas and share thoughts. You also earn respect. What leader or game changer or organizer or mentor or entrepreneur would not want this?
Of course there is another side of the coin – the other part of the tango. Effective listening involves not only tuning in to others, but tuning in to ourselves. Listening carefully to what we say and how we say it can teach us an immense amount about ourselves and also allow us to connect with others more effectively.
I’ve seen a model I like that classifies four categories/styles of listeners. There is the Director, Thinker, Relator, and Socializer. (read more about that here)
When communicating with a group of listeners you can often use subtle cues to keep them all interested and speak in ways that find their ears. For meetings or public speaking situations, I always research my audience, prepare my speaking points to hit the four styles, and then I trust my gut to allow me to flow in and out of the agenda while staying on track. It does take practice though. The way that I personally hit the four styles is by presenting a quick to the point statement, then present the detailed information on that statement, then present an analogy of the statement (fun, funny, or personal), and finally a quick summary with a slight rewording. I may have said my point 3-4 ways, but this helps ensure that what I said was heard and understood.
It seems that good communication really starts with good listening.
Are you a good listener? If you don’t know – try this assessment and find areas with opportunity to improve.
“Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.”
– Carl Rogers
Have a creative and productive day,