New Year’s Resolutions are notorious for being kept … for about 6 days. But there are several resolutions worth keeping this new year. One of them really should be to learn to listen to others and stop the (bad) habit of interrupting.
Recently, I was at a party hosted by some good friends. The food was fabulous. The music was great. And … I decided to try an experiment. I decided to test how well other people listened.
People, (including ME) generally don’t listen very well … if at all. During my little social experiment, I was interrupted so often that I decided to do nothing BUT listen to others. They told me their Christmas stories, about their vacations to the mountains, their political ideas, who they thought would win which bowl game, and what was going on with their jobs. People LOVED IT as I allowed them to talk and talk and talk.
I also noticed that I wasn’t the only one who was interrupted. NO ONE could finish more than 2 or 3 sentences without being interrupted – sometimes they couldn’t even finish ONE sentence! You could see people waiting to catch a pause in the conversation so they could jump in. They looked like race cars waiting at the starting line, revving their engines in anticipation of the green light.
What was going on here?
People thought they had something more important to say than anyone else in the room. They seemed to love the sound of their own voice and the stories of their own adventures. Dale Carnegie and others have written about the fact that people love to talk about themselves to anyone who will listen (How to Win Friends and Influence People). The completely shy person who refuses to talk about themselves at all is a rare breed. What’s driving this? I think there are several factors:
- Our attention span is pathetically short. We have been conditioned by advertising and marketers to anticipate having our train of thought interrupted every 5 to 6 minutes for advertisements. Segments on some media outlets last less than 30 seconds!
- The songs we all have on our iPods and CD’s last only 3 to 4 minutes on average. We have our minds changed for us constantly. When is the last time you saw only three songs on one side of a record album? Hint: Boston’s debut album in 1976.
- People have more information available to them than ever. As a result, they’re eager to inflate their egos by showing you how much they know. In almost every business, someone will "do some online research" on a product then come into a store confident they know more than a guy who’s been to every training class for the last 20 years and has been selling and installing that product for 35 years.
- Manners have gone out the window. Interrupting has become so commonplace that no one even notices anymore. People almost seem to expect it.
- People have failed to learn the forgotten art of listening. They think what they have to say is more important than what anyone else has to say.
What can you and I do? For one, we can learn to become better listeners ourselves. You see, listening isn’t just a need that we have, it’s a gift that we give.
So, resolve to give the gift of listening. Here’s how to do it:
1. Cultivate a desire to listen. Listening to others is a powerful tool. If given the opportunity, the others will tell me everything you need to know. If this doesn’t create desire, I don’t know what will.
2. Always let the other person do 70% of the talking and refuse to interrupt. Your speaking role will come into play when you’re asked a question.
3. Ask for clarification and insure that you understand by repeating back what you heard. Once you ask a question, be quiet and listen.
4. Learn to read another person’s body language. Non verbal communication can account for up to 60% of the message. Tone accounts for 30 percent and the actual words used accounts for only 10%.
5. Take notes if needed. That means you have to be prepared to listen ahead of time!
6. Be present in the moment. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by external or internal forces.
These will all be very difficult to do. But if we’re going to get ahead in our jobs, in personal relationships, and in life, we will have to develop superior listening skills. Imagine how you would feel if you had a friend who really, I mean really listened to you.
Become that friend.