The Power of Listening

You probably have heard the saying, “You were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason”.  Presumably, the tone in how it’s been delivered has varied with the circumstances and your age 😉, but the meaning was always the same; You need to listen more and talk less! 

The original quote is credited to Epicetus, a Greek philosopher around 55AD.   His complete assertion concluded with:  “….so we can listen twice as much as we speak!”   In our modern world filled with so much noise from talking head radio and TV, to personal YouTube channels, podcasts, and all the social media platform, sometimes you wonder if anyone is actually listening or is everyone just competing to talk?  What would Epicetus think of this? 

If everyone is focused on being heard, then there is no one left to listen. 

Have you ever watched a panel discussion where you can tell that no one on the panel is really listening to what the other panel members are saying?  They are constantly fighting for their chance to speak, including talking over one another (similar to a political debate).  Often they will repeat a point another panelist just made, because they were so focused on getting to speak they didn’t even hear the exact same point minutes earlier.

That is exactly what happens in business (and personal lives too).  It is often overlooked, but one of the most powerful tools in good communication is simply shutting your mouth and listening.   There are a lot of salespeople in the world that have figured out the easiest way to increase their income is to ask good questions and then shut up!  They’ve learned you can’t discern what a customer is wanting to buy, if you don’t give them the chance to talk.  They leverage the power of listening.

It is very similar in the workplace.  If you want your employees or co-workers to hear you, make sure you are trying to hear them as well.  This isn’t about creating a “tail wagging the dog” environment.  It’s about letting the other person know you are listening to their entire message, not just bits and pieces.  

Here are 4 ways to increase your Power of Listening

Stay focused

This one is probably the hardest, and it keeps getting harder.  We tend to be tied to our smart phones and frankly every time you look at your cell phone in a meeting tells the person you are talking to they are, at best, the 2nd most important person in the room.  Instead, focus on maintaining eye contact and using body language that lets them know you are listening.  Try to block out other distractions that might take your focus off the person or group you are talking to. And if at all possible, silence your phone.

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Provide verbal affirmation

This doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with everything they are saying, but that you’re letting them know you are listening.  This type of engagement is when you inject short phases or words to let the speaker know you’re listening.  You’re not interrupting them, you’re just verbally saying words like “Yes”, “I understand”, or “I hear you”  when they finish a sentence or take a breath.

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No early verdicts

This is one that has really deteriorated in recent years.   Maybe it is driven by our shorter attention spans, but we are so quick to pass judgement on everything that happens.   The second we disagree with something we’re quick to interject our opinion even before the person talking can finish making their point.  That is not listening.   Yes, it is OK to disagree with someone and it’s even Ok to have healthy and sometime heated discussions, but you have to avoid judging what someone is saying before they even finish stating their comment or question. 

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Recapping works

This is a great way to not only let the person know you were listening but it’s scientifically been proven that repeating a message back to the person you’re talking to helps move the content of the conversation from short-term to long-term memory.   An easy way to use this technique is to say these six words, “So what you are saying is….”, and then recap what the person said.  It forces you to intentionally recap what was said and give the person you talking to a chance to affirm what they were stating or asking.   It is also a great way to transition to what if any next steps are regarding the topic of discussion.

What about you?  Do you consider yourself a good listener?  What would your employees, co-workers, friends, and family say?   Are you a good listener in one setting but not on another?   Do you have any techniques for listening that have drastically improved your power of listening?  As always we value your comments in the space below.  

Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

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