Can You Hear Me Now?

I recently read that the average business person spends 40% of the day listening.   While initially startling, as you think about what we do in a day, the statistic makes sense.  We listen (hopefully) in meetings, on the telephone, over lunch, while commuting, in hallways and elevators.  With that large a chunk of our day listening it behooves us to think about all the things that get in the way of us hearing what’s said and to wonder what we could do to listen better.

If we’re really honest with ourselves we admit that too often we appear to be listening but we’ve let our minds wander to the e-mail we just received, or the phone call we need to make, or the proposal we’re writing, or something our spouse said…or the crowds we’re feeding over the holidays.   We’re distracted.

If we’re really, really honest with ourselves, we confess that we listen through filters — pre-judging what the other person may be saying based on our opinions of the topic or person.  We’ve formed a conclusion before the conversation has concluded.

Too often in conversations we interrupt to reply before we know what the other person’s really saying or asking.  “Got it.”  “I think…” “Here’s what you should do…”   We’re overly efficient (and even a little rude) and hinder our ability to understand.

The cards are stacked against listening but remember that we’re spending 40% of our days doing it….probably poorly!  Here are three ways to boost your listening skills.

  1. Give yourself permission to be present.  Nothing is more important than that conversation at that moment.  Take your hands off your keyboard and listen.  Put your Blackberry away and listen.  Don’t press the “mute” button on that conference call; instead listen.
  2. First recognize and then abandon your filters and preconceived notions. Open up to a possible new and valid perspective (even if you don’t agree with it).
  3. Focus on the other person and what that person is trying to say — not how you want to respond.  Hint: we focus with our ears, our eyes, our heads, our bodies.  Lean into the conversation with interest and nod (sincerely) in understanding (because you absolutely will understand more when you’re focused on hearing).  If we’re working hard to understand the other person’s point, we’re less likely to interrupt.

For many of us, really listening to hear is a life-long struggle.  But, with 40% of our day at stake, it’s certainly worth the fight!

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