Showing posts with label listening. Show all posts
Showing posts with label listening. Show all posts

Monday, March 31, 2014

Listening with Your EYES

For more than 25 years, I've been teaching people how to become better listeners.

During that entire time, I've emphasized the need to really understand what another person is trying to tell you. That involves paying attention to the words, tone of voice and body language.

But I realized another way to think and talk about this process recently, when I was being interviewed by Chris Efessiou on his radio show Straight Up with Chris.

Our EARS are not the only sensory organs that we need to engage to be effective listeners.

If we’re going to “get” a person’s complete message, we also need to use our EYES.

Chris and I were discussing why listening is the foundation for all other communication skills, and why it’s not just about hearing someone speak.

He teaches negotiations at two universities and emphasizes this point with students:

With the art and science of negotiating, 
80% of it is LISTENING and OBSERVING.

I've known for decades the truth of these words, but I hadn't thought about it in terms of using your eyes even more than your ears.

Ignoring what you see when communicating with others can cause you to miss a huge part of the message, often the most important part.

Suppose you’re talking with your teenage daughter. You’re telling her something and she says “Yes” to every point you make. Yet her posture clearly shows that she is not buying what you’re trying to sell her. If you’re not observing that part of her reaction, you’ll miss what she’s really conveying.

Or at work, you've made a difficult decision and announced it to another person who will be impacted by it. You ask if he’s OK with it and you get the response, “It’s fine.” But his body slumps in the chair, and disappointment is written on his face. Are you paying attention to his body language, in addition to his words?

Communication is hard. We don’t learn these essential skills in school, and often we focus on the wrong things – what we want to say, the strength of our position or rationale, attempting to persuade the other person to accept our point of view…

If we can take more time to zero in on others – to truly see who they are and how they’re reacting to our message – we’re much more likely to interpret their response accurately.

This dynamic gives us the opportunity to have real dialogue and go deeper. We can address the discrepancy between their words and their body language, and open the door for them to be honest with us about their real thoughts and feelings.

If you’re genuinely interested in “getting” another person, commit to using your ears and your eyes in every conversation. You may be astounded at what you learn…and what you've been missing.

And if you'd like to learn about other four communication skills I discussed with Chris Efessiou on his show, listen to the full interview.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Best Gift You Can Give…Year-Round

This time of year, people spend a lot of time looking for the perfect holiday presents for loved ones. These gifts can involve a lot of money.

Sometimes you luck out, and the present hits the mark. It’s just what the person hoped for.

Other times, you might hear the obligatory “thank you” but inside the recipient wishes you’d gotten something else.

I’m going to tell you about a gift that I guarantee people will love…every time you give it.

And it costs you nothing, except time and effort.

It’s called listening.

Did you think I was going to reveal something more startling and dramatic? Are you tempted to discount this notion and move on to a more exciting idea?

Stay with me.

The fact is, most people are very poor listeners.

They’d much rather talk about themselves. They’re not as eager to hear what you have to say.

So they interrupt. (This is such an annoying behavior that I devoted an entire blog post to it.)

Or turn the conversation back to them as quickly as possible.

Or do something else at the same time while they’re supposedly listening to you. (But you can tell you don’t have their full attention, even over the phone.)

Think about how you feel when you’re trying to convey something that’s important to you, and you’re dealing with a poor listener.

If you’re like me, some of those emotions include disappointment and frustration.

Sometimes you can get so upset with the lack of responsiveness from the other person that you forget the point you’re trying to make.

Now…think about the last time someone listened to you and really got what you were saying.

How did you feel after that experience? About the other person? About yourself?

There are few things that matter to us as human beings than to feel that someone else “gets” us. We treasure those who take time to understand what we’re trying to say and make us feel valuable at that moment.

So if you’d like to start giving this gift more often, here are some tips…

1. Recognize the listening moment. It’s easy to engage in conversation and not so easy to notice when a person wants to tell you something important. Keep your radar up for those opportunities when you can switch from a back-and-forth exchange to one where you let the other person talk.

2. Ask questions that show you’re really paying attention. Avoid jumping in with advice, opinions and ideas. This gives the speaker permission to keep talking and lets them know you’re genuinely interested in learning more.

3. Summarize what they’re saying in your own words. When you’re able to recap what someone has said and re-state it even better than they can, you’ll get a positive reaction.

That’s because this level of listening requires hearing what’s said and not said, along with noticing tone of voice and body language. It requires putting together what is sometimes a disjointed mish-mash of thoughts and words, and organizing them into a coherent message.

If you commit yourself to developing this prized skill, you will be able to give this gift endlessly over the lifetime of your relationship.

And if that individual’s happiness and well-being matters to you, what better gift could you possibly give?

“Making people feel valuable is different from making them feel felt or feel interesting, because you touch them in an even deeper way. When you make someone feel valuable, you’re telling the person, ‘You have a reason for being here…It makes a difference that you’re here.’ When you make people feel important, you give them a gift that’s beyond price.” - Mark Goulston in Just Listen 

Monday, November 11, 2013

The No. 1 Worst Listening Turn-Off

I was trying to have a conversation with this person.

But I found myself getting irritated with one thing he kept doing…interrupting me in the middle of a sentence and talking over me.

It became impossible to carry on a conversation because it seemed like I was never able to articulate a complete thought.

This is an extreme case, but unfortunately, interrupting is a common occurrence.

We all do it at times. We get an idea while someone else is telling their story, and we blurt out what we want to say whether the speaker has finished or not.

So how can you avoid falling into this trap?

The first step is to catch yourself doing this. If you quickly apologize and stop talking, there’s no harm done. The speaker can pick up where she left off.

The problem is, you may be oblivious to this habit. And you could be ticking people off without realizing it.

This happened with my business partner Paula and me a few months ago. Since we’re a small company, we each juggle a lot of balls. And when we get on the phone to coordinate our projects, we’re moving fast. If one of us is talking and pauses for a second to catch our breath, the other sometimes jumps in too quickly. Or interrupts mid-sentence.

Fortunately, we both became aware of this unproductive pattern at about the same time. We discussed what we were doing – and why – and agreed to work on recognizing when we were doing it as we were doing it and give each other real-time feedback.

This solution has worked well. She’ll say, “You’re interrupting me” if I speak over her. I apologize and shut my mouth immediately so she can finish her sentence. And vice versa.

But that kind of exchange doesn't happen often.

Instead, people raise their voices in an effort to be heard. Or the speaker may shut down and give up, deciding it’s not worth trying to finish.

The result is that what needs to be said doesn't get said by the person who wants to say it…or heard by the one who needs to hear it.

Just a few vital reasons why you need to stop interrupting if you exhibit this habit:

  • You may miss important information that the person needs to tell you.
  • You send a message to others that what you have to say is more important than what they have to say.
  • You don’t learn anything when you’re speaking.  
  • You’re communicating that you don’t have the patience or self-discipline to wait.

These behaviors push people away and damage relationships.

Start monitoring yourself during conversations. If you find yourself about to jump in before the speaker has finished talking, stop yourself. Focus on the words and meaning of what’s being said. You’ll be less likely to jump in with your own opinions if you’re trying hard to understand theirs.

"To say that a person feels listened to means a lot more than just their ideas get heard. It's a sign of respect. It makes people feel valued." - Deborah Tannen, Author and Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How Well Do Your Communication Habits REALLY Work?

My husband Lee was telling me about his meeting with one of our neighbors who has a problem with the joists under his house. In short order, Lee figured out the problem and laid out the solution to the guy. Lee has been a residential home builder for more than 30 years, and he never ceases to amaze me with the depth of his knowledge in this area.

Sometimes when he describes these types of projects to me, he uses technical terms I’m not familiar with. And I can’t always visualize the construction elements he’s describing. Even when he takes out a piece of paper and draws a picture for me, I struggle to see what is so obvious to him.

And to be honest, some parts of a job that excite him are not that interesting to me. Situations that involve people rather than physical objects capture and hold my attention much more. So I have to work hard at staying focused on what he’s saying and really “get” what he’s trying to tell me.

In some conversations, I've allowed my mind to wander. Then I’m in trouble when he poses a question like, “What do you think?” Since I missed some of what he was saying, I have to ask him to repeat it or admit that I didn't hear everything he said.

Either way, I've communicated to him that his message wasn't that important to me. If I did it very often, our relationship would suffer.

In every relationship – whether it’s with your spouse, child, boss, coworker, customer, friend or other family member – there’s an array of communication skills required if your goal is to connect with the other person at a meaningful level.

When you listen, you have to give your focused, undivided attention. To keep your eyes locked on them and not get distracted by other people who may walk by...or other thoughts that enter your head. To respond in a way that demonstrates you truly hear and understand what they’re trying to say.

And when you speak, your words need to affirm and uplift whenever possible. You may have the best of intentions when you criticize, give advice or offer solutions. But these approaches are typically not welcomed by the other person.

The problem is, we all have established habits when it comes to communicating with others. And as I've learned over the years, it’s easy to fall back on old habits that get in the way of effective communication.

Recently, my business partner Denny Coates and I talked about this problem. In Episode #14 of our Strong for Parenting podcast, we discussed  the challenges parents face in overcoming established patterns when they want to improve the way they communicate with their children.

After we recorded it, I realized that the message applies to everyone. No matter who you’re trying to communicate with, you need to know why it’s so hard to break your existing habits and form new ones. When you understand that – and you’re willing to do the work to make the change – the payoff is stronger, more positive relationships with each person you care about.

"The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting for the old, but on building the new." - Socrates

Monday, March 4, 2013

Listening Counts…with Strangers AND Family

I had just gotten settled in to my seat on the airplane for the long, cross-country flight and was looking forward to digging into the book I’d brought along. Then the woman who would be my seat-mate for the next several hours arrived. She was very outgoing and keen on striking up a conversation. I briefly thought about ignoring her or giving nonverbal cues (like keeping my head buried in my book) that signaled I did not want to engage in conversation, because I really want to enjoy the time to myself.

But then I realized I had an opportunity to connect with another human being, to make her feel cared about and understood. Besides, maybe I could learn something from her and gain some insights that would be valuable down the road.

So I closed my book, turned towards her and gave her my undivided attention as she opened up about significant events that were happening in her life. The conversation turned out to be a gift for both of us, though I could never have predicted that outcome in advance.

I got to thinking about the opportunities we have every day to listen and just “be there” for the ones we profess to care about most. But often we miss those moments.

There are times when I want to focus on what I’m reading or doing, but my husband Lee is eager to share something he’s been thinking about. It takes effort, patience and love to consciously shift my full attention to him and what he wants to say.

I can remember times in past years when I wasn’t so smart about this, and I hurt his feelings by brushing his comments aside. Or I would appear to listen but then wasn’t able to respond intelligently to a question that he posed, so he could tell I wasn’t really “there.”

It’s even easier to tune out your children when they start talking. When they’re wound up, kids can ramble and go into details that you don’t care about. You may even think, “Just give me a few minutes of silence and time for myself!”

If they’re telling you about a problem, you may be tempted to offer a quick solution to save time and get on with what you were doing.

But the truth is, listening is one of the most important gifts you can give to your children, as this brief video from the Strong for Parenting YouTube channel illustrates.

As any parent with adult children will tell you, the years that you have your children at home are fleeting. You can make the most of the time you have by making sure you really hear what they’re trying to tell you.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” - Leo Buscaglia, American author (1924-1998)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Would You Rather Argue or Have a Dialogue?

We miss many opportunities to have meaningful dialogue with another person, and as a result, we lose out on deepening the relationship.

What often happens instead is that people assert their opinions without considering the reasoning, assumptions, or facts that their opinions are based on. They feel distressed or angry when someone expresses an opposing point of view. They argue. The interchange becomes heated and emotional. It becomes a matter of winning and losing.

But no one really wins an argument. All that happens is that people lose respect for each other and resent each other because their beliefs have been attacked. They continue to hold fast to their opinions as if they were absolutely true, and nothing is learned or resolved.

Debates and arguments are the opposite of dialogue.

Dialogue is about maintaining a realistic, humble perspective, keeping your mind open to the possibility of learning from another person’s point of view and helping them understand yours. During the process, you encourage the other person to keep an open mind as both of you explore each other’s opinions.

It’s strictly about discovering what people believe and why, and it involves two parts.

Part One has to do with asking about the other person’s opinions. This means exploring the assumptions, facts and reasoning that support their perspective.

Before you ask questions, be clear in your own mind that you’re not trying to prove that you’re right. And don’t listen just to be polite.

To assure the other person that you aren’t wedded to your opinions, and that you’re genuinely interested in other points of view, ask questions such as, “What caused you to see it that way?” or “What conclusions led you to this opinion?”

Listen without interrupting or debating. When you sense the logic behind the person’s thinking, check to make sure you understand it correctly. “It sounds like you see it this way because…”

And when you hear something that sounds like a fact, check it out. “That’s interesting. Where did you learn that?”

Sometimes, people aren’t conscious of the assumptions, facts and reasoning that underlie their opinions. Probing to learn why others think the way they do helps you both understand what’s behind their point of view.

Part Two is about stating your own opinions and describing the assumptions, facts and reasoning that support your point of view.

Essentially you express your own point of view, including the same things you asked about—the assumptions, facts and reasoning behind your perspective.

Invite the other person to question your reasoning. Say something like, “So that’s where I’m coming from. Feel free to ask me about any of it, if you’d like.”

If you sense that the other person wants to debate or argue with you, try to defuse it. Say something like, “We could debate this, but I don’t think we really need to right now. I just want to hear your opinions and understand where you’re coming from.”

Dialogue is a powerful communication skill. When you have a difference of opinion with someone else, you may have to fight the habit we all have of trying to prove you’re right and the other person is wrong.

Instead, you’ll be exploring what you and the other person are thinking, and why. You’ll be asking about that individual’s opinions, and you’ll be explaining your own.

You’ll be amazed at the response you get when you show respect for other people’s opinions. Your relationships benefit when you give up arguing and you express a genuine interest in what other people care about.

"It is understanding that gives us the ability to have peace. When we understand the other fellow's viewpoint, and he understands ours, then we can sit down and work out our differences." - Harry Truman, American president (1884-1972)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Are You Willing to Listen to Feedback?

We all make mistakes.

While you probably agree intellectually with that statement, it’s not always easy to admit when you actually make one. Especially when someone else points it out to you.

Learning to graciously respond to constructive feedback is one of the most important skills you can ever learn. But we aren’t taught how to do it in school or at home. Most people respond with defensiveness, excuses, or withdrawal. Those reactions shut down communication, so the recipient of the feedback doesn’t learn anything, and the behavior doesn’t change.

In this video one of the most outstanding and entertaining speakers I know, Lou Heckler, tells a memorable story about his new dentist’s reaction to feedback. It’s a terrific example of a person who really listened and took action.

Next time someone tries to give you constructive feedback, invite that person to tell you more about what happened and what they want you to do instead. When you find out what they're looking for, your chances of delivering that behavior in the future are greatly enhanced.

And be sure to THANK the person for being honest with you. It took courage to bring the subject to your attention.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Listening – A Lesson in What NOT to Do

I was just finishing up my third year of teaching 4th grade at an elementary school in Blacksburg, Virginia. While I’d enjoyed those three years, I was ready for a change. I’m the kind of person who thrives on variety and challenges.

But my principal didn’t want to reassign me to a different position. He was eager to keep me where I was because I was doing such a good job. So when he refused my request, I decided to apply for an opening that came up at another school.

I was actually serious about making the transfer, until I had an interview with that school’s principal. Although that meeting took place more than 30 years ago, I remember to this day the reason I withdrew my application.

It had to do with listening.

We met for close to an hour, and I think I spoke a total of five minutes during that time.

It was fascinating at first to hear him describe specifics about his school and the faculty. But then he began “holding forth” about himself and all the things he’d done.

At no time did he try to learn about my teaching style, my attitude towards children, or anything else that might have helped him make an informed decision about my suitability for the position.

Instead, at the end of our time together, he looked at me and said, “I think you’re the kind of person who’d fit right in here. The job is yours if you want it.”

I was flabbergasted.

He hadn’t spoken to my current principal, and he hadn’t asked me any questions.

I’ll never forget the thought that ran through my mind at that moment: How could you possibly know if I’d fit in? You haven’t made any effort to get to know me at all! 

I politely told him I’d think about it and get back to him, but I already knew what my answer would be. His behavior during that interview foreshadowed what life would be like at that school. There was no way that I would work for someone who was so self-absorbed.

Since then, I’ve encountered scores of people – many of them in key leadership positions – who share this principal’s habit. They’re focused on talking about themselves and their accomplishments. They don’t seem to consider that those around them might have something meaningful to say. They don’t understand that, by listening, they can learn from others and validate their worth.

Today I consider this habit a measure of a person’s ego and self-awareness. The more you’re willing to let others have the floor and listen with genuine interest to what they're saying, the more comfortable you probably are in your own skin. And the less you feel the need to dominate discussions. You’re more likely to acquire important information and gain insights you didn’t have before.

A test to check how much you’re listening versus talking

When you’re in a conversation with others – whether individually or in a group – imagine that there’s a spotlight shining down on the person who is speaking. Consciously monitor the percentage of time the spotlight is focused on you compared to the others.

If you’re in the spotlight most of the time, it’s a good bet the people you’re talking to are experiencing a mix of frustration and disappointment. Like me in that interview, they’re probably wishing you’d stop talking long enough to take an interest in them.

Not only that, if you don’t listen, how will you know what your customer really wants? Or what a colleague thinks will work on a specific project? Or what your child needs from you right now?

In case you need further convincing, simply monitor your own reaction when you’re engaged in a conversation with someone who’s pre-occupied with delivering their own message and appears to have no interest in what you have to say. I predict your thoughts and feelings won’t be positive.

Whether you’re at home or at work, when you take time to let others do the talking and you focus exclusively on understanding them and making them feel understood, you will be utterly amazed at the transformation that takes place in your relationships.

Every human being has a deep need to be accepted and understood. If you fulfill that need, you’ll form an unbreakable bond that can last a lifetime.
"It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life.” - Alfred Adler, Austrian psychiatrist (1870-1937) 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Listening: The First Step of Encouragement

When you see that someone is discouraged or upset, you may be tempted to dispense advice or try to solve their problem. Neither of these responses is helpful to the other person and could actually result in a negative reaction. Instead, if you really want to be an encourager to someone you care about, start with listening.

The goal of listening is to convince the discouraged individual that you understand his situation and how he feels about it. This is important, because if he doesn’t believe this, he won’t accept your encouragement.

Focus your full, undivided attention on the other person. Make him feel that he’s the only person in your world at that moment. This means steady eye contact and no distractions.

Invite him to open up. If he wants to vent his frustrations, let him. Pay attention to his tone of voice and body language. This will tell you more about the level of discouragement than the words themselves. Even though you may sense that he’s over-reacting, you must NOT say so. Just let him express his feelings about the situation – without criticism or judgment. Otherwise, he will shut down. Open the conversation with something like:
“You don’t seem like yourself today. Want to talk about it?”
As you hear what he’s trying to say, check to be sure you understand. Say back what you believe he meant.
“So you’ve been working on this steady for five weeks and now you feel that all this work may have been for nothing.”
And don’t deny the reality of the situation. If you say something shallow like, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” or “It’s no big deal,” you’ll lose credibility.
“You sound pretty upset. I know you feel bad about what happened, and you wish you didn’t have to deal with this on top of everything else. And for the moment you’re not sure what to do about it.”
You’ll be amazed at how people will open up to you when they sense that you’re genuinely interested in how they’re doing and you demonstrate empathy with their situation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What My Daughter Taught Me about Listening

About 10 years ago, when my daughter Alison was in high school, she used to babysit after school to earn spending money. One afternoon she had a difficult situation with one of the children, and she was very upset when she got home.
As she started telling me about the details, I found myself jumping into problem-solving mode. I started asking a lot of questions, then suggested how she might have handled the situation differently. She kept trying to tell me about what had happened, and I continued to interject pieces of advice
Finally, Alison stopped me and said very emphatically, “Mom, I don’t need your suggestions. I had a horrible day. All I really wanted you to do is listen and be sympathetic. I’ve already taken care of this.”
Boy, did that stop me in my tracks. She was looking for understanding and compassion, and I fell way short. What she didn’t need at that moment was someone evaluating and criticizing her actions or giving her advice.
I am grateful to this day that Alison confronted me and stated so clearly what she was looking for. Most of the people we interact with every day aren’t this honest when we miss the mark. As a result, both parties can end up frustrated and disappointed. Here’s the insight I learned that day. 
Anytime someone wants to talk with you about a problem, don’t assume they’re looking to you for an answer. They may simply need a sympathetic ear or some encouragement.
One of our deepest human cravings is to be understood. When we feel that someone really “gets us,” we bond with that person in a meaningful way. So when someone comes to you with a problem, your goal is to express understanding of her situation and her feelings. While this may sound simple, it requires effort to set aside your need to give advice or try to solve the problem. If you listen and encourage instead of offering advice, the people you care about will be more likely to talk with you about the challenges they're dealing with. And your relationship will grow stronger.