listen more

Good ol’ Diogenes Laërtius said several hundred years before Christ that

We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may listen more and talk less.”

But listening doesn’t come easy: most of us hurry to finish other people’s sentences (if we think they speak too slowly), or assume what it is that they mean (if we don’t really understand them), or disconnect while they are talking (if we think they are taking too long to explain themselves).

Fortunately, there is hope: listening can be an acquired skill. As an example, these are the 10 steps to effective listening suggested by Dianne Schilling:

  1. Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
  2. Be attentive, but relaxed.
  3. Keep an open mind.
  4. Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
  5. Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions.”
  6. Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.
  7. Ask questions only to ensure understanding.
  8. Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
  9. Give the speaker regular feedback.
  10. Pay attention to what isn’t said—to nonverbal cues.

By all means, these are all great tips, totally on target. And yet, I have the feeling that the best tip to improve our listening skill was beautifully summarized by Stephen R. Covey when he said that

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Which probably says it all: we are not good listeners because we worry more about what we are going to say next than about what we are being told. And that, right there, is probably the biggest obstacle to communication.

Thus, understanding is what makes the difference: when we listen to understand, we don’t just listen to the words being said -but to the person in front of us. When we do that (yes, that is called empathy) we no longer feel the need to finish the other person’s sentence, nor assume what it is that they mean, nor disconnect while they are talking.

Of course, this is not the only way of looking at this issue. In fact, we could flip the coin and discuss what it is that you have to do so that people want to listen to you. John Rampton offers 7 techniques for getting people to actually listen to what you are saying:

  1. Stop mindless chatter.
  2. Understand what listening looks like.
  3. Remove distractions from the environment.
  4. Put important things in writing.
  5. Watch your body language.
  6. Cut to the chase.
  7. Build relationships with those around you.

But going back to Diogenes, the technique that I like most is listen more and talk less: over the years I have discovered that the less you talk in a meeting (especially if it is rowdy and noisy) the more people listen to you when you actually talk -in fact, I have found that this works even better if you say nothing at all and wait for someone else to openly ask for your opinion.

At that moment, you have the floor, all ears and eyes are on you -so you better have something interesting to say! If you do, you can be sure people will really listen to you, not just then but every time you open your mouth. A big responsibility, when you come to think of it, right?

Additional watching: TED Talks by Julian Treasure

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