Have you ever had a conversation with someone – and you know the entire time that they are not listening to you? You can feel it in their energy, you can hear it in their tone, and you can see it in their body language. They’re leaning back, with the “deer in the headlights” look; and if you look down at their feet, they are pointed to either the left or right because they want out of the conversation. Or, perhaps they are not listening to you because they have an agenda to push and they are just waiting for their turn to talk?
If it’s about their agenda, then their body language is the exact opposite from before – leaning forward, rolling their eyes, and trying to make themselves taller with their feet pointed at you. They have something important to say, and they are either waiting for you to stop talking or better yet, they rudely interrupt you. Any of this sound familiar? We’ve all been on the giving and/or receiving end of poor listening – how does it make you feel – and how are you making others feel?
I used to be a terrible listener. My over-inflated ego was driving the scene and I wanted my ideas to be accepted by all. Arrogant I was (think ‘Yoda voice’).
Then, I was introduced to, and stepped into, the world of improv. One of the very first lessons I learned, was that to be successful in the art of improv, you need to “listen to understand,” aka, active listening. Listening to understand means you park your ideas, your biases, and eliminate all distractions. You suspend your judgment (set your ego aside), so you can focus on listening to what the other person is trying to communicate while managing your emotions. It is authentic.
Easy enough, right? WRONG!
Listening to understand is a skill that needs ongoing practice and strengthening. Over the last 20 years, I have become a better listener, with plenty of setbacks. In my book, Improv Is No Joke: Using Improvisation to Create Positive Results in Leadership and Life, I share this story.
Let’s say a CPA has a client across the table who is pouring out her angst about what’s keeping her up at night. The client is making it clear what she needs and wants, but the CPA is thinking of the services that they came in to sell and is waiting for their opening.
“Well,” the CPA tells the long-faced client, “we have this new product here that we’ve developed…”
The client wonders whether the CPA was listening to her – and he wasn’t. He was waiting to deliver a sales pitch. Far better if he could have put those products and services to the side and truly heard his client’s wants and needs and asked questions to learn more about them. A real conversation results in a meeting of minds. That’s the way to a genuine sale—one that’s a real fit.
We all can strengthen our listening skills if we work on them every single day. And when we do this consistently over time, you might just hear a client, customer, or co-worker say, “
“I am not sure why I told you that?” Or, “do you mind if I rant about a situation that happened to me without judging, only listening”? (Google – “It’s Not About the Nail”. This is a perfect video to understand my last sentence.)
The other critical part of listening is empathy. Empathy is being fully present and listening deeply to understand what they are saying from their point of view. In the Forbes.com article, Empathy Is an Essential Leadership Skill — And There’s Nothing Soft About It by Prudy Gourguechon, she states, “Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s experience, perspective, and feelings. Also called “vicarious introspection,” it’s commonly described as the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. But make sure you are assessing how they would feel in their shoes, not how you would feel in their shoes.”
Learning how another person feels in their shoes is critical and challenging to becoming a better listener. We need to ask many questions – many good questions – to understand the other person’s situation and feelings. We all come from different backgrounds, ethnicity, and race. As a friend of mine, Dino Tripodis, once said, “we are the sum of our experiences.” Take the time to understand the other person’s journey, listen and learn, and think about how you may need to change your mindset based on the information you are receiving.
If you would like to discuss ways that you can improve yours and your co-workers listening skills, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and in the subject line put – At Last, The Secret to Active and Authentic Listening