“Perhaps if people talked less, animals would talk more. People are incessant talkers – I can give you my word on that.”
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Listening’ is something few people do truly well. Worse, our ability to listen continues to deteriorate thanks to the constant stimulation from our devices and endless cacophony around us.
So, about six months ago, I made a commitment to myself: to listen actively and to listen consciously.
For me, it’s been an interesting challenge. Most of the time, I want to get my ideas out – quickly – before my mind wanders off to the next thing and the idea is gone forever. My mind is always racing, bouncing from one thing to the next, formulating responses, anticipating reactions, assuming feelings or devising solutions. Sometimes (likely, too often) I start to respond before the other person can finish their third sentence. I know I’m not alone here.
We interrupt, because we think we know.
Conscious, effective listening, I discovered, can be one of the most difficult things to do because to listen we must first be silent. For many of us, being quiet can be disconcerting. If you’re not speaking (read participating), then you must not be interested (read engaged). That’s one assumption. The wrong one.
But, it’s not impossible to learn to listen consciously in our harried, noisy worlds.
To listen, we must first be silent.
Listening is possibly the most crucial element in effective communication. If we fail to listen, we will fail to meet our customers’ needs, let alone exceed their expectations. The same is true of our personal and family relationships – a failure to listen consciously to the person across the table, be they an adult or a child, can easily destroy any relationship.
Here are five lessons I’ve learned about active, conscious listening and what it can help us achieve.
- Nurture relationships
When you set aside your devices, quiet your mind, purse your lips and focus only on the person and subject at hand, you will hear so much more – what’s spoken and what’s left unspoken. You may even find that doing this can be exhausting the first time. But, trust me, it gets easier with practice. Conscious listening allows you to nurture stronger relationships and build a higher degree of trust with the people around you – because for the time that you are listening to the person across from you, it will reflect the fact that there is nothing else more important to you than what they are saying.
- Discover new ideas and more solutions to a problem
When you let someone else on your team or family speak, you will uncover new ideas or discover several more solutions to a problem. Think of that person who always hangs back, or the introvert on your crew – the one who holds back because there are already too many loud voices (often the same ones) in the group. If the same voices hold court every time, you will fail to tap the wealth of ideas within your team. Allowing, or rather, encouraging new voices at the table can sometimes take work. You may have to ask that usually quiet person what they think about a problem or idea. You may need to show them that it’s quite safe to offer an opinion and then encourage the discussion along. They might be blown away by the fact that you want their opinion, but what follows could well blow you away.
- Go beyond the ordinary to surprise and delight
Someone I met recently said, “just shine the light on your customer and let them speak. You will hear all you need to know to exceed their expectations.” That goes for family, friends and loved ones alike. When you do this, you will discover so much more about the them. The right question at the right time to clarify or probe will give you valuable information about the speaker. You can use that insight to solve a problem for them – one nobody else could quite help them figure out. Or, at just the right time, you could use relevant information you’ve gathered to create a very personal, memorable gift for them. All of this will go a long way towards making you standout from the crowd. If you’re in business with this person, it will kick-start a chain reaction of good things for your business, simply because they would talk about what you did for them (think customer experience) – you will be known as the person who genuinely cared, someone who not only listened, but truly heard what was said. If it’s for a loved one, well then, you will only reinforce and strengthen your relationship. At the very least, it shows that you respect your speaker.
- Plant yourself firmly on the learning path
Once you’ve discovered the three points above, this one just reveals itself. New ideas, new information, new solutions, all lead to you being on a path of constant learning, nurturing both your personal and professional growth. We are always learning from those around us. Conscious, active listening not only enables this process, it accelerates it.
- Become a better leader
If you think about the people you most enjoy being with, you will very likely find that you love being around them because of the way they listened to you. When I think about the people in my life who I most enjoy being with, I find that the best of them are exceptional listeners and, in turn, great leaders and mentors. In short, these people make me a better version of myself.
Having been more deliberate about the way I listen to others, and seen what it can do, this is one skill I intend to keep building.
What does conscious listening mean to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.