How well do you listen to others? How well do others listen to you? This past New Year’s Eve I was at a party hosted by some 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 and I was shocked at my findings.
People, in general don’t listen very well…at all. I was interrupted to the point that I decided to do nothing BUT listen to others tell me about their Christmas stories, vacations to the mountains, their Presidential picks, who would win what bowl game, and what was going on at their jobs. I didn’t take it personally, but noticed that others were interrupted too. NO ONE could finish more than 2 or 3 sentences without being interrupted. You could see people waiting to catch a pause in your speaking so they could jump in. It appeared like a sports car waiting to jump into a break in the traffic on the highway. What was going on here?
The interruptions centered on one theme. 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. The completely shy person who refuses to talk about themselves is a rare breed. What’s driving this? I think there are several factors:
- We have been conditioned by advertising and marketers to anticipate having our train of thought interrupted every 5 to 6 minutes for advertisements. Sometimes the segments on certain radio talk shows 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 say only three songs on one side of a record album? Hint: Boston’s debut album.
- People have more information available to them and are eager to inflate their egos by showing you how much they know. In my business, someone will “do some research” on replacement windows and come into a store and think they know more than a guy who’s been to every training class for the last 20 years and has been selling and installing them for 35 years.
- Manners have gone out the window. Interrupting has almost 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, I resolve to give the gift of listening. Here’s how I plan to do it:
1. I will cultivate a desire to listen. Listening to others is a powerful tool. If given the opportunity, the others will tell me everything I need to know. If this doesn’t create desire, I don’t know what will.
2. I will always let the other person do 70% of the talking and I will refuse to interrupt. My speaking role will come into play when I am asked a question. Besides, I get to use this blog to get things off my chest!
3. I will ask for clarification and will insure that I understand by repeating back what I heard. Once I ask a question, I will shut up and listen.
4. I will 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. I will take notes if needed. That means I have to be prepared ahead of time!
6. I will be present in the moment. I won’t allow myself to be distracted by external or internal forces.
These will all be very difficult to do. But if I’m going to get ahead in my job, in my personal relationships, and in my life, I 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.