I’ve asked this question hundreds of times, in corporate workshops with lawyers, accountants, bankers, software engineers, HR people, administrators, auditors, consultants… you name the profession and I’ve probably asked them this question.
Most people pitch themselves as being “above average” when it comes to their listening skills. Funny thing is, when I ask them if they know a really great listener, almost nobody does. Maybe one person in 30 knows one outstanding listener. So it could be that we have a perception about ourselves that we are better listeners than we really are.
What makes for an outstanding listener? Here’s a subjective list of what people have told us phenomenal listeners are and do:
1. They give space for connection to happen – connection between the person who is listening and the person being listened to. AND connection between feelings, thoughts, ideas and experiences within the person being listened to
2. They listen to themselves all the time; and they trust what they hear
3. They listen beyond words – they listen for meaning, feelings, intentions
4. They ask great questions.
5. They focus. On you. Exclusively.
6. They are patient. They don’t rush you.
7. They put their own stuff aside. They don’t talk all over you. They don’t emote all over you.
8. They use non verbals (nodding, leaning forward, ‘uh-uhns’, etc). They adapt these for their audience (too much nodding can make some people feel patronised. Or seasick).
9. They stay quiet. They know it is physically impossible to listen and talk at the same time
I was sitting on the BART in San Francisco recently and four women got on at Embarcadero and sat down, two women facing the other two. It was fascinating to observe them, all the way to Rockridge. Nobody actually listened to anybody else; they just remained silent while the other person talked. There was no actual dialogue. It was a series of monologues. I doubt whether any of them felt heard. No one was listening.
One of the erratic listeners I ever knew was a theatrical man I worked closely with for many years. He would fall asleep while I spoke. Literally in the middle of a sentence, I would look over and his chin would be on his chest, eyes closed. His head would jerk up and he would try to pick up the thread of what I was talking about as though nothing had happened. I wish I’d been quick enough to start talking about something irrelevant and ridiculous like “…and that’s how I came to discover the rash and how important good hygiene is when you visit a food court”. This would have to be one of the most extreme examples of not listening I personally have ever experienced. So, we could possibly add “stay awake” to the list of fundamentals that excellent listeners do.
Your challenge for this week: pay attention to how well you listen to others. Use the list above as a guide. How good a listener are you?