3 Ways to Listen More Effectively

I had a colleague say to me once, “you have 2 ears and one mouth for a reason.” I’ve never forgotten that. Have you ever noticed yourself drifting off when someone’s talking to you or found yourself not being able to hold back b/c you want to say something. I know I have. This is one of the hardest things to change. The first step is to be conscious of it. Let me first make a confession. I’m not very good at this. If you ask my wife, Michelle, what the one thing she would change about me, she would say that she would want me to listen more and better. I guess the first step is admitting your shortcoming, right?

I believe there are three keys to listening more effectively in your professional life and at home:

1 – Single Task
2 – Minimize Distractions
3 – Pay Attention

Here are my thoughts on these three:

1 – Single Task:
There used to be a lot of people that talked about how much you needed to multi-task. We’ve seen that change. The more you multi-task, the less you will really get accomplished. Pick a task and see it through. I guarantee you will be more productive (and you will get that sense of accomplishment with each completion). This goes for listening. Be fully engaged. If someone’s talking to you, really pay attention to what they’re saying. Don’t cut them off. Try to minimize the 500 thoughts that are going through your head. Look them in the eye and give them your full attention. Make them feel like you are in tune to what they’re saying.

2 – Minimize Distractions:
If you’re working and in a meeting put your blackberry or other device away. You can check it every once in a while, but don’t keep it out. If it’s out, you’re going to look at (a lot). And, please, turn off the vibrate notification for emails. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in where someone’s phone is vibrating every 2 minutes. This is very distracting.

If you’re on a conference call, minimize or shut down your computer as much as possible. Of course, there needs to be some flexibility here. If you’re not an active participant but simply need to be on the call, it’s ok to get some other things done. However, if the call is an important one, do what you can to stay offline and off your computer.

The same goes for regular phone calls. I used to be guilty of this a lot. You’re on the phone with someone and you’re surfing the net or sending emails out. Do you think you’re giving that call it’s rightful attention? Definitely not.

3 – Pay Attention:
I want you to start to think about listening the next time you’re talking to your colleague, your client, your wife, your children, etc. The more you’re aware of it, the better you will get.

“A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.” – Kenneth A. Wells

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What works for you? Is an improvement area at work, at home? If you start paying attention, really paying attention, and you’re noticing an improvement, I’d love to hear about it.

4 thoughts on “3 Ways to Listen More Effectively

  1. Great thoughts.
    I especially agree with minimizing distractions. The other day I was in a meeting with a colleague of mine and his cell phone was vibrating as I was trying to pay attention in the meeting. It certainly caught my attention (distracted)!!! Goes to show that it not only distracts the attention of the owner of the cell phone, but also others!!!

  2. Two big barriers to overcome listening problems: Impatience and Selfishness. I find that my own selfish desires to get MY point across hinders me from really listening to someone else's ideas, thoughts, criticisms or topics that someone is interested in. I am also working on my patience, as it takes alot to hold myself back from interjecting with ideas and solutions to a problem, even though that person (my wife, a customer, a business partner or colleague) may not even want a solution. Overall, by overcoming my own 'self', a difficult but humbling practice that certainly takes awareness, I find that relationships become more mutually beneficial and less self-serving.

  3. This makes me remember the chapter about 'empathetic Listening' in the 7 habits book of Stephen Covey.

    I sometimes turn of my computer monitor when I'm on a phone call. If the screen is black, it has no attraction to me.

  4. Great comments from everyone. Thanks for sharing. Jan – I love the idea of turning things off. I find that if I don't do that if I'm on a call I will start to work on other things or simply surf the web. Not good for true engagement and listening.

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