Whether it’s our spouse, our children, or with a sales prospect or our boss, one of life’s great challenges is to listen well. Often, we are tempted to think about our response rather than listen. Or, we believe we already know what the other person is going to say, so we simply interrupt or wait impatiently for our turn. Listening, really listening, with our whole being, is a skill and one of the most important compliments we can give another human being. The following 10 “rules” can help.
1. Stop Talking! It is difficult to listen and speak at the same time.
2. Put the other person at ease. Give them space and time and “permission” to speak their peace. How we look at them, how we stand or sit, makes a big difference. Relax, and let them relax as well.
3. Show the other person that you want to hear them. Look at them. Nod when you can agree, ask them to explain further if you don’t understand. Listen to understand them and their words, rather than just for your turn.
4. Remove distractions. Good listening means being willing to turn off the TV, close a door, or stop reading your mail. Give the speaker your full attention and let them know they are getting your full attention.
5. Empathize with the other person. Especially if they are telling you something personal or painful, or something you intensely disagree with, take a moment to stand in their shoes, to look at the situation from their point of view.
6. Be patient. Some people take longer to find the right word, to make a point or clarify an issue. Give the speaker time to get it all out before you jump in with your reply.
7. Watch your own emotions. If what they are saying creates an emotional response in you, be extra careful to listen carefully, with attention to the intent and full meaning of their words. When we are angry, frightened, or upset, we often miss critical parts of what is being said to us.
8. Be very slow to disagree, criticize or argue. Even if you disagree, let them have their point of view. If you respond in a way that makes the other person defensive, even if you “win” the argument, you may lose something far more valuable!
9. Ask lots of questions. Ask the speaker to clarify, to say more, give an example, or explain further. It will help them speak more precisely and it will help you hear and understand them more accurately.
10. STOP TALKING! This is both the first and the last point, because all other tools depend on it. Nature gave us two ears and only one tongue, which is a gentle hint that we should listen twice as much as we talk.