7 Easy Steps to Better Listening

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7 Easy Steps to Better Listening

Are you a good listener? It’s often the small things that make the difference between good listening and bad listening? I’d always considered myself a good listener, but recently I was talking to someone, and experienced a layer of listening that far surpassed my abilities. I shared more of my life than I had done for some time. We talked with ease, excitement, passion and a complete lack of fear. I walked away invigorated and excited to understand what had happened in our 45 minutes together. I knew I needed to re-look at what makes exceptional listening. In the first of a series of blog posts, here’s 7 easy to implement approaches to improve oour listening skills.

Eyeball to Eyeball. 
If we’re going to spend time listening to someone, let’s be fully present. Stop. Make Eye Contact. Enjoy the merry dance of ideas sparking and the vulnerability of eyes connecting. People do notice if we look over their shoulder or at your phone. They don’t think we’re important. They just think we’re ignorant, insecure and an idiot.

Ask Good Questions.
If we want a good answer ask a good question. Good questions unlock thinking and invite deeper reflection. A skilled questioner doesn’t grow bored or waste their time listening to froth; they find treasure. If we’re stuck in boring conversations, we’re asking boring questions.

We Don’t Know Exactly What They Mean.
However close the similarities in experience, we cannot know ‘exactly what they mean.’ By jumping in we bring attention back to ourselves, alienate them and cut across their vulnerability. It’s good to empathise and share suitable experiences with them (ie those that are motivated to be helpful to THEM as opposed to making ourselves look good). Let’s ask questions and allow space for them to say ‘Exactly What They Mean.’

Two Ears One Mouth.
We’d look like freaks if we had two mouths and one ear, yet we’re happy to sound like freaks. Or maybe we think our voice sounds good? It does. Very good. But in moderation. Let’s try listening double the time we talk. More meek, less freak.

Turn our Phone Off.
Everyone’s time is valuable. Taking calls in meetings dismisses the value of others time and shows disrespect. When a phone rings, asking them: ‘Do you mind if I get this’ obliges them to say ‘Yes.’ It’s good to turn off phones. Or turn it upside down. Or sit on it. The world wont end. If we’re truly leading armies into battle and our under performing generals are lost without us, after we’ve realised we need to train our troops better, request flexibility for phone checking when we arrive. Let’s not go AWOL mid sentence.

Confidentiality.
The clue in ‘Please don’t tell anyone’ is the word ‘anyone.’ It does include people who may find it ‘interesting’, ‘helpful’ or those we’re wishing to impress. The sharer who senses we’ve told others wont share again. Those who hear we’ve broken confidence wont trust us. And those we impress are not worth impressing. They’re full of life’s problems, will talk about us behind our back, and drag us down to the gutter of gossip. Happy days.

Be Approachable and Non Judgemental.
People share when they feel safe & secure. (Or when they’re caught or in court). Let’s reduce the sharing friction. Ask. Care. Don’t Judge. And under no circumstances over-react. Not if we want them to share next time.

So how do you create the environment to listen well? What do you think makes a good listener? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

  • westatom

    Good stuff – always helpful to have a refresher on these things. I once tried to use some techniques I’d learned on a course on listening on my wife over a drink on our date night, what started out as a cynical experiment on my part ended up being one of the most meaningful and memorable evenings of our lives because she truly felt ‘listened to’. This is powerful stuff!

    I like the point about not knowing ‘exactly what they mean’ so many of us fall into this without realising because there’s a desire to connect to someone else’s experiences, but it can be really unhelpful, especially if you do it a lot.

    Asking good questions has me interested, but I’d like some ideas about what constitutes a ‘good question’ as opposed to a ‘bad question’ beyond simply ‘ask open questions’ – any ideas?

    • http://www.calebstorkey.net Caleb Storkey

      Thanks for your thoughts Tom. Good question!!

      I love it in a conversation when someone says. ‘Oh- that’s a good question.’ I think when say this, it means one of two things:

      1. It resonates with them because they are able to talk about something they really want to for a number of reasons (they’re passionate about it, knowledgeable about it, have been thinking about it recently, want to talk about it….or a series of other reasons).
      2. It opens up new thinking or a chance to reflect or frame something they haven’t been able to before (or haven’t for a while). It stirs them to something more and satisfies the craving for something of substance. A good coach, mentor or consultant who is able to string a few of these ‘good’ questions together in response to what is being said, and help transition from less healthy A to more healthy B is worth their weight in gold.

      I’m interested when I read your question though, as I think there’s probably something in the words there- because I probably prefer helpful questions or less helpful questions. As far as I’m concerned, anything that gives people the chance to share their thoughts, ideas, emotions and heart can be positive- but some questions are certainly not helpful.

      But In my thinking, I think less helpful questions are those that are:

      1. Nothing to do with what’s being talked about, but a link in to what the person who’s asking the question wants to talk about. Quick way to hijack the question.
      2. Loaded- where you know the answer, but it’s asked to make a point.
      3. Manipulative or Controlling- where the desire is to back somewhere into a corner to get what the questioner wants. Isn’t this why some people feel salespeople are creepy.
      4. Scripted. Don’t hear what’s being said and just go on autopilot.

      I love a questioner that when he asks the question he is more interested in the issue or the other person, than how he is perceived or his own benefit as a result of the answer.

      So what thinketh thee? What do you think makes a good question?

  • http://richardmclaughlin.biz Richard McLaughlin

    and if you do it by phone, turn off all electronic devices

    • http://www.calebstorkey.net Caleb Storkey

      except the one your using to make the call with ;)

      Cheers Richard- thanks for your thought….