I recently read Daniel Pink‘s book “To Sell is Human.” His premise is that everyone is selling; that we are all trying to move people. So teachers are trying to get students to do their homework. Doctors are trying to get people to take their medicine. We are all trying to move someone to do something. The most interesting chapter was on improvising and a company called “Performance of a Lifetime” created by Cathy Salit. In this class executives are taught how to improvise which involves an intense amount of listening. If you think about it, we can’t improvise without listening. We can’t move people without listening. We can’t sell without listening.
My son and I share a love of listening to stories. One of the things I look forward to on a long car trip with him is that he is always game to listen to Story Corps, Radio Lab or The Moth podcasts. These are all documentary type radio shows where people share their stories. They can be deeply personal, a guy recounting how he met his fiancé who later died in 9-11, or a story about how some people see more colors than others (could it be me?) or mad cap drug induced adventures in Morocco. The thing is, if you aren’t good at listening, you will miss the meaning of the story. And it takes practice.
So what could you be missing? Here are some tips into how to improve your listening skills:
1. Pause. Daniel Pink and Michael Segovia, an outstanding MBTI instructor, both recommend that you pause. Dan Pink recommends 5 seconds and Michael recommends 10 seconds. In Michael’s case, every time he asks a group of participants if they have any questions, he would count to 10 in his head. This seems like an eternity. But for those people who prefer introversion, they need that time to reflect. Dan, on the other hand, pauses at the end of someone else talking. It lets you reflect on what they said. Pause, digest and truly listen.
2. Eye to eye. If you are physically in the room with someone, make eye contact. Hold their gaze when they are talking. Be in the moment. If they are on the phone, cut all the technology. Don’t be reading emails, texts, messages, Facebook updates or playing Soduko. Imagine them being in front of you and making eye contact. Can’t you always tell when you are speaking to someone over the phone and they are distracted? We all can. Tune in and turn off the clatter!
3. Understand. Stephen Covey said “Seek first to understand and not to respond.” If you’re busy planning your response (re: argument, counter point, brilliant repartee) you are not listening. Ask questions that help you understand their point of view. “What do you think your boss meant by that comment?” “How is your relationship with your Mother?” “I can see you feel hurt, what do you want to do about it?” Do a deep dive into their story. Don’t give advice. Just seek to understand.
4. Mirror. In one of the exercises that Dan Pink did in Cathy Salit’s class was to mirror someone else’s movements. Now this type of mimicry would be over the top in real life, and cause a fist fight between my brothers and I when we were kids in the back seat of our Country Squire station wagon. But subtly copying someone else’s stance can create some symbiosis. They lean back in the chair, you lean back. They lean in, you lean in. This creates a sense of connection. Mirror others to build confidence.
5. Generosity. Listening is about being generous. Selfless. As a great facilitator from Inscape Publishing once said “It’s all about them.” As in your audience. It’s time to hang up your one-ups-manship. Your friend is talking about their trip to Hawaii? There’s no point in butting in to talk about your honeymoon in Maui. Your co-worker just finished a year long project? Now is not the time for a diatribe on the messy project you are in the middle of that just got delayed….again. Your spouse had a horrible day yesterday? Now is not the time to bring up the Honey Do List. Give them the gift of being the center of your attention. Completely with no strings attached. Be generous.
6. Yes, and. One of the exercises from Cathy Salit’s workshop is something I have experience in one of my classes while earning my Masters. In the class, we had to plan a fictitious class reunion. First, we were instructed to say “Yes, but.” When that played out, the energy in the room diminished. None of the ideas had any traction. Everyone was a wet blanket suffocating inspiration. In the next round, we were instructed to say “Yes, and.” One word changed, and we all had possibilities. We were intently listening to everyone’s ideas and building on them. Next thing you know we were holding the reunion in Rio with limos, samba lessons and caipirinhas. Try it. It’s inspiring.
Listening is a way to be present and take in the person, loved one or group interaction around you. It can be a gift to yourself and others to just show up and “be there”. One of the most effective ways to do that is to LISTEN.