Just Listen

Listening in Small BusinessI work with business people of all stripes who want to communicate more clearly and effectively. I help them streamline their writing and deliver presentations that stick. Sometimes clients want “shortcuts” or need solutions NOW. For these people I do my best, but I can’t work miracles! Good communications skills cannot be acquired with a wave of my wand or a snap of your fingers.

However, you can easily absorb some lessons as you go about your daily routine. Every day you have the opportunity to learn about speaking by listening. Earlier this spring the TED Radio Hour on NPR featured an interview with Julian Treasure, a sound expert who says we are “losing our listening.” As someone who preaches that you can’t be a good speaker unless you are a better listener, I was intrigued enough by his interview with host Guy Raz to watch Treasure’s original TED Talk. In it, he describes the ways we have trained our ears for listening: how we recognize our names amid the din of a noisy party, for example, or tune out continuous “background” sound. But, he adds, our listening is also affected by many filters we subconsciously impose on what we hear: culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, intentions.

All in all, listening is a tricky business. And we need to practice doing it more mindfully. Fortunately, Treasure shares some clever exercises for improving our listening–indeed, the title of his TED talk is “5 Ways to Listen Better.” He ends by making a plea for teaching listening to children. Because unless we collectively break this habit of shutting out sound, we are headed toward a totally dysfunctional, disconnected future where we block out the incessant, exhausting noise of everyday life by isolating ourselves under headphones. We need to learn how to listen, because listening is essential to human connection. “Conscious listening always creates understanding,” Treasure observes.

Likewise, if we want to be understood when we speak, we must become better listeners first. We need to reconnect with each other in conversation–and stop performing dueling monologues. I often advise my clients that one way to improve as public speakers (i.e., when they engage in any speech not specifically “private”) is to become better public listeners. This means being less impatient as listeners, exercising critical thinking skills, and not responding reflexively to contextual filters (see above). Then they can achieve a far better connection with the speaker and her/his message. And learn how to recreate that same connection when they are speaking. Only in that mental space is the act of true communication possible.

“Every human being needs to listen consciously in order to live fully. Connected in space and in time to the physical world around us. Connected to each other.” Treasure is right. And why would we want to live any other way?

As a Communications Artist Ann Timmons (http://www.anntimmons.com) uses her background as an actor, director, and playwright to share unique perspectives on all facets of speaking professionally. Whether you’re the face and voice of your company, or someone who needs to communicate complex ideas, together we’ll discover your presence. And then you’ll be able to connect with your listeners–clearly, dynamically–every time.
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The Missing Link: Listening Skills

Listen, Understand, Act

 

Probably you have not been told to ‘shut up and listen’ lately…but do you really know if you are a good listener? Or why that is important to your own and your organization’s success?

The old line that ‘god gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason’ reflects the common problem: most of us do not listen well. Research shows that in the USA a far higher percentage of managers are extroverts than is the overall workforce. And many extroverts are better at talking than listening.

Listening well is a critical skill: good listeners are

  • more likely to learn of potential problems and solutions early;
  • better at assessing employees, job applicants, and potential partners or vendors;
  • more aware of changes which may affect them.

Good listening skills require some attention and effort to learn and use. They take an effort to turn off one’s own internal discussions, to think about what one is doing in a conversation, to ignore one’s phone or other distractions, and to change one’s talking habits. But your listening skills can be improved. And this will help with your personal life as well as your business!

Tips for more effective listening include:

  • listen for understanding of both what is said and what underlies the words or tone.
  • turn off your tendency to be defensive or think of your reply while the other person is speaking.
  • engage yourself fully in listening: make eye contact, say an encouraging word or nod periodically, take notes as needed.
  • ask relevant questions: for further information and to clarify your understanding of what you think you heard.
  • don’t interrupt or assume you know what the rest of the statement will be.
  • don’t give advice unless asked to.

Start by making a real effort to practice each skill above. As you master some, string them together when talking with someone you trust. Ask for feedback from a mentor or other close resource to check your improvement progress. Think about how much more effective you are in specific situations. All those steps will help you make being a good listener into a habit. People respond to being listened to very positively. And you will see the rewards!

A common characteristic of excellent sales people, top executive recruiters, and brilliant leaders is their ability to listen intensely. And to take what they have learned about the client or customer and use it for their own success. Being a good listener can help you achieve more — try it and see!

Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, HR executive, speaker, and author on human capital issues. She is known for her ability to address organizational goals and issues effectively and to create human resource management practices which support these goals without excessive administrivia. Patricia has advised executives and boards on a wide range of human capital and strategic planning issues. She has expertise in organization development, talent management, process restructuring, compensation, and training. She has worked with technology-based companies, government contractors, non-profits, associations, and retail operations. She advises small to mid-size organizations on ways to succeed and to help their employees thrive. Ms. Frame has given seminars for SBDC in recent years on the basic processes of HR management. Additionally, she generously provides one-to-one HR counseling once a month through Alexandria SBDC.