Be a Better Listener
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Why do we admire celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer and Bill Clinton?

They make you feel like you’re the most important person in the room.

They excel at listening – a skill that separates great personalities from the near-great.

We spend 80 percent of our waking time on four communications tasks:

  1. Reading
  2. Writing
  3. Speaking
  4. Listening

While listening accounts for 50 percent of our communications, we pay little attention to this important process and tend to take it for granted. We erroneously assume that listening is a passive activity and that everyone knows how to listen.

In fact, most of us find it hard to maintain the prolonged concentration required for truly effective listening. To be a good listener, you need to adopt proactive habits.

Listening, but Not Hearing

Consider this: We retain only 25 percent of what we hear. Why?

The average person speaks at about 130 words per minute. Our thinking speed is about 500 words per minute. Consequently, we jump ahead of what is actually being said. This causes our minds to wander, and we think about other things (such as what we’re going to say next).

Four common listening errors occur in our daily communications:

  • We don’t clear our minds before entering into a conversation or listening to a person’s presentation. Many of us multitask, especially when we’re on the phone. Even in a face-to-face exchange, some of us multitask in our heads, solving problems and making lists while the other person gets to the point (which we have decided we already know).
  • We experience emotions that distract us from listening. It doesn’t take much of a trigger for our feelings to pop up. A look, a phrase, and we’re off and running with anxiety, fear or anger. Our ability to listen is impaired when we’re distracted by feelings.
  • When someone is speaking, we’re already thinking about our reply. We’re concentrating on our rebuttal or desire to share a similar experience, which means we cease listening to the speaker. As a result, we sometimes miss important information that will make our response inconsequential or inappropriate. We also miss opportunities to build and strengthen relationships.
  • We think about the subject from our own perspective, rather than trying to understand it from the speaker’s point of view. We may therefore misinterpret or misunderstand the information being presented.

Why Don’t We Listen?

When you meet with your boss, an important client, a potential new friend or a love interest, you manage to listen without interrupting. You’re a paragon of attentiveness, asking all the right questions and paying attention to the answers. You make sure you don’t talk too much.

Highly successful people do this all the time. They’re automatically good listeners. They show they care by thinking before they speak, they listen with respect, and they respond appropriately.

The rest of us forget these basic civilities. We get distracted. We don’t take the time to practice the mental discipline of good listening in every personal encounter. We rank listening opportunities according to assigned importance and apply effort only when it benefits our careers or personal lives.

Test Your Listening Skills

Here’s a simple exercise for developing better listening skills from Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There:

Close your eyes and count slowly to 50 with one simple goal: Do not let another thought intrude into your mind. You must concentrate on maintaining the count.

More than half the people who try this fail after counting to 20 or 30. Nagging thoughts enter the brain.

The more you practice Goldsmith’s exercise, the more success you’ll experience – and the better you’ll be able to focus attention on truly listening to another person.

9 Keys to Better Listening

Keep the following goals in mind when practicing good listening skills:

  1. Just listen.
  2. Don’t interrupt.
  3. Don’t finish the other person’s sentences.
  4. Don’t say “I knew that.”
  5. Don’t agree with the other person. Be neutral. Even if he praises you, just say “thank you.”
  6. Don’t use the words “no,” “but” or “however.”
  7. Don’t be distracted. Don’t let your eyes or your attention wander.
  8. Maintain your end of the dialogue by asking intelligent questions that show you’re paying attention. Move the conversation along, and allow the other person to talk.
  9. Don’t strive to impress others or demonstrate how smart or funny you are.

I delight in working with those who want to improve their listening and interpersonal skills. I have a few spots available for August coaching. Call me right now.

Let's Talk!

Call me today (949) 721-5732 to schedule a 30 minutes consultation.

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Moty Koppes is a certified master coach providing you with personal development, life coaching, relationship coaching, communication skills, personal power, life balance, career coaching, productivity enhancement, executive coaching and stress reduction in Newport Beach, Orange County, Southern California.