When my kids were little and not listening to me I would shout, "Get the wax out of your ears and LISTEN!" Every year, about 12 million Americans head to their doctors with "impacted or excessive cerumen," a really gross-sounding way to say they've got serious earwax problems. But, did you know you can scrape that gross gunk out of your ear like the last of the peanut butter from the jar, and still not be able to hear effectively? Earwax, medically known as cerumen, is actually there for protection to keep the ear canal clean...so it's not earwax that keeps us from listening, it's "ear lacks".
Various studies show we spend 80% of our waking hours communicating. We spend 45 percent of that time listening. While listening is a large part of our daily routine, research also confirms that most individuals are inept listeners.
Why are we such poor listeners? It is not because we have wax as thick as peanut butter in our ears. It is because our ear lacks training. In school we are taught to read, write and speak, but not how to effectively listen. Yet, listening is the key to all effective communication. Without this crucial skill messages are often misunderstood, communication breaks down, and emotions heat up.
Good listening skills can lead to: better customer satisfaction, greater productivity, higher quality, improved safety, more respect, and increased creativity and innovation.
Many successful leaders and entrepreneurs credit their success to effective listening skills. Richard Branson frequently quotes listening as one of the main factors behind the success of Virgin. Effective listening is a skill that underpins all positive human relationships. And, yet, it is a skill that is virtually ignored.
Following are six easy to remember tips to increase listening abilities. They form an acrostic for LISTEN.
LEARN. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply,” says Steven Covey. By listening to understand we learn what motivates our employees to perform and our customers to buy. Listening is the catalyst that fosters mutual understanding, and provides us insight into people’s needs and wants so that we can connect with them in a meaningful way. Influential leaders listen and limit misunderstandings with both employees and customers.
INQUIRE. Good listeners ask clarifying questions like:
· I heard you say _____. Is that correct?
· If I understand correctly, your concern is _____?
· What else can you tell me about _____?
· Could you give me some insight on _____?
· What do you think (or feel) about _____?
· Correct me if I’m wrong. Did I hear you say _____?
Influential leaders confirm what they heard and minimize mistakes.
STOP TALKING. Mark Twain said, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” It is impossible to hear others when our lips are moving. Did you notice the words “listen” and “silent” contain the same letters? To effectively listen, we must be courteous enough to let others complete their thoughts. Influential leaders are comfortable with silence and gain insight.
TIME. In today’s high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world, the deepest need of the human heart is to be understood, but few people slow down and take the time necessary to truly hear the heart. Genuine listening is a rare and special gift - the gift of time. A pause, even a long pause, does not necessarily mean the speaker has finished. Be patient and let the speaker continue in their own time. Sometimes it takes time to formulate what to say and how to say it. Never interrupt or finish a sentence. Time builds relationships, respect, and results. Influential leaders take time to truly listen and increase trust.
EMPATHIZE. In every organization, there will be individuals with differing perspectives and opinions. Opposing values, traditions, and expectations are as varied as the characters that carry them to the workplace. When we care enough to take off our shoes, and take a walk in their shoes we begin to see the world as they see it. Though we may not agree, empathetic listeners are open to others’ point of view. Empathy is the channel that creates safety and mutual respect. Influential leaders listen with not only their ears but also their heart and establish rapport.
NON-JUDGMENTAL. Competent and confident communicators are impartial. They don’t let habits or mannerisms distract from what the speaker is really saying. They are aware of their own biases, focus on what is being said, and try not to draw incorrect conclusions or inaccurate assumptions – warranted or not – about what the other person means. They are astute at separating fact from opinion. By sticking with the facts, they earn the right to present controversial information and are heard. Influential leaders listen without being judgmental and earn respect.
Listening effectively sets apart the best communicators from the mediocre ones. It differentiates the most influential leaders from the least influential leaders. It is a skill that can be learned like reading, writing and speaking. It just takes a little training, awareness, and lots of practice.
Beth Rudy is a Senior Consultant with Insight Management Consulting, an organizational and leadership development firm located in Crofton, MD that focuses on communication training. She uses her passion, personality, and positive energy to influence individuals to become better communicators.
She has found that being an excellent communicator has helped her gain confidence to express her thoughts more clearly, share information more effectively, and resolve conflict more respectfully. Throughout the learning process she has discovered a lot about herself and others, and built strong and lasting relationships with customers and colleagues, as well as friends and family.
To bring a communications class to your church or workplace please contact Beth.