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Two ears, one mouth

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I love talking; anyone who knows me can verify that for sure. I thought I listened well, and certainly my journey of self-awareness over the years and my whole coaching training and practise has gone a long way to enhancing those listening skills. But still, I could always listen better. My husband likes to remind me of this on frequent occasions.

 

Research suggests that we remember between 25 percent and 50 percent of what we hear. So just think, when you’re talking to your partner, colleague, child or friend, they’re probably hearing less than half of what you’re saying.So it is said that listening is an art - the art of hearing—not just with yourears but also with your heart. And once we can master this skill, it becomes a useful and powerful tool that can change the dynamics of any relationship, business or personal.

 

Improving your listening skills can help in so many ways. Here are just a few:

 

  • Building rapport: enhance the affinity and connection you have with people; they will respond well if they feel listened to. Your relationships will improve in work and play

  • Enhance trust: the more people feel heard, the more they are likely to trust and confide in you, and care about you

  • Gain valuable insight: if you are genuinely listening to what is being said, you will learn more and have a better understanding of the person who is talking

  • Grow personally: as your listening skills improve, so will your appreciation of people grow, the world around you and your understanding of yourself

 

According to HighGain, a company in the US who specialise in listening courses, there are 10 key reasons why we don’t listen:

 

1. Culturally: our Westernised approach to life means we’re expected to talk more than listen

 

2. We think we do listen, but HighGain’s research has shown that people can only identify 1-2 great listeners from their entire lives

 

3. Boredom: the average person talks at rates of 125-175 words a minute,yet we can listen at rates of up to 450 words per minute. With this large processing gap, we drift off and think of other things while listening

 

4. We confuse listening and hearing

 

5. We think good listening takes too long. Good listening actually minimizes useless distractions and enables you to hear the message correctly the first time

 

6. We are an action-oriented culture, with a strong emphasis on getting the job done. We frequently act before we fully understand

 

7. Less than 2% of us have had formal educational experience with listening. Most “communication” courses are about expression

 

8. We project our thoughts and views onto others, assuming they feel the same way

 

9. We confuse listening with agreeing. Listening is about understanding and not necessarily agreeing

 

10. We make assumptions that the speaker has all the power and that the listener is in a passive mode. Good listeners have most of the power and control, because they help the speaker tap into the depths of his or her wisdom and experience in order to better verbalise it

 

“The word listen is derived from two Anglo-Saxon words. One word is hlystan,which means hearing. The other is hlosnian,which means to wait in suspense. Listening, then, is the combination of hearing what the other person says and a suspenseful waiting, an intense psychological involvement with the other person.” John Stewart

 

So how do we get better at listening? Well, it’s something we have to become aware of and focus on.

 

Focus and be present:

One way to help with this is to repeat the words someone is saying in your head. It helps reinforce what’s being said and keeps you focused. Look at the speaker and put aside those distracting thoughts that keep popping up. Avoid any side conversations or being distracted by environmental factors. This all takes practice but becoming aware and deciding to listen is the first step.

 

Acknowledge and confirm:

Demonstrate to the person speaking that you are hearing them. Sometimes that’s as simple as a nod, smile or uh huh, or ‘yes, I see’. Check in with your own body language – do you look and feel engaged?

 

Clarify and feedback:

Do you really understand what is being said? Sometimes that internal dialogue gets in the way, and you’ve assumed you understand something. Get some clarification by reflecting back what your understanding is, ‘so what I’m hearing is…’. Don’t be afraid to ask someone what they mean.

 

Empathise:

Put yourself in their shoes. Get ‘into their listening’ – where is the speaker at right now? What is not being said, the emotion behind the words? What are you feeling about the situation?

 

Defer your response, at least for a while:

This is a tough one. As people speak, thoughts pop into our heads, judgements, assumptions and rebuttals and often we want to share them straight away. But interrupting as we all know frustrates the person speaking and halts the flow of the message. Dishing out a counter argument before the whole message has been delivered may mean you miss the final piece and you don’t necessarily gain the perspective you could.

 

It takes work, concentration and commitment to be a better listener. And as I said at the beginning of this piece, as a natural talker, it is a skill I continually have to work on. However, from my coaching experiences, and even going back to the Landmark work some years back, I know how much richer, more insightful and beneficial it can be when I truly listen.

 

Now, what was that my hubby just said…?

 

“The beginning of wisdom is silence. The second stage is listening.” — Hebrew Proverb