Listening is an art-form often misused and rarely mastered. It is vital that you learn to listen in order to be successful in business. Communication is almost always noted as the key reason people either deal with or do not deal with your business – and believe me, more than half of communication is listening.
As with most things in life, if you want to get better at it, you need to practice it. You need to focus on improving your listening abilities in order to be a better communicator. This comes through first having a better understanding of listening and talking and then practicing techniques to have better conversations.
1. You cannot listen at all while talking
The comprehension and language parts of our brain, called Broca’s Area in your frontal lobe, are responsible for both understanding the language that we hear or read and forming the language that we speak or write. It is not possible that the same area of the brain accomplishes two tasks at the same time and thus you need to stop talking in order to listen.
2. You cannot listen very well while thinking
It is quite common for people to be thinking, perhaps about their response or what else to add to the conversation, maybe about what they have just heard. It prepares you for the conversation, allows you to win debates and dominate arguments – but it diminishes your ability to listen. You can’t continue listening to the speaker while you are deep in thought and you often answer or attack a position that you didn’t fully understand because of it.
3. You cannot listen if you’re distracted
All of our senses are always alert. Our ears, eyes and hands especially are great sources of distraction. When we see something that distracts our attention, we shift our focus and our eyes and we stop listening. When we hear something that distracts us, sometimes even from the speaker, our focus shifts and we start thinking about something else instead of listening. Distraction is the enemy to communication.
4. You cannot listen effectively to someone you distrust
When you do not value the speaker for their knowledge or abilities; you don’t trust them or you see them as inferior to you, you cannot easily focus on what they are saying. Your mind continues to devalue, correct and suspect them while they talk and this impacts your ability to listen to them.
5. You cannot listen well to the illogical or confused
Our minds prefer chronology in conversation and logic in what we listen to. If the message is confused or out of order, our brains need to work harder to decipher it – and if what we hear makes no sense we struggle to continue listening. A great example of this is a foreign language that you might hear but not understand whist on holidays. You very quickly stop listening to it altogether.
6. You cannot listen with a closed mind
The inability to remain open minded when taking on new messages is a major barrier to listening effectiveness. If you don’t agree with the viewpoint of the speaker, listening is put on hold and preparing to reply or rebuke comes to the fore. You will make a better reply or rebuke if you listen to the message first but our closed minds get in our way.
7. You cannot listen to what you don’t want to hear
Our prejudices and preconceptions also cloud our ability to listen. Selective deafness is a common term for hearing only the parts of the message that we want to hear and not the rest.
Better listening through practical application requires some time and discipline but a simple example is the L-A-M-A model developed by McKee Consulting Group for person centred coaching.
It works like this:-
L – Listen
A – Acknowledge
M – Make a statement
A – Ask a question
The key to this conversation or message exchange is that you do not offer an opinion or an objection to what you heard, you simply acknowledge it.
- Your reply is firstly your acknowledgement and then a statement about what you heard.
- This requires you to listen to what was said.
- Finally, you can ask another question.
This model teaches us to listen through practice and some businesses even have a regular LAMA Day, where all conversations are LAMA conversations.
I recommend that you learn about the power of good listening and develop good listening skills every chance you get. As you listen better, you will learn more and your wisdom will grow.