That was the advice of the longtime editor of Cosmopolitan, Helen Gurley Brown, who died earlier this week.
I think we’ve all met people who talk to you as though they are delivering a lecture rather than engaging in a two-way process. We’ve seen interviews where the interviewer gives every impression of listening – lots of head-nodding and murmurs of agreement – but then goes on to ask another question which makes no sense at all.
Maybe we’ve even been guilty of it ourselves sometimes. Assuming we don’t want to bore our colleagues or family, how can we become better listeners?
Here’s a handful of ideas which I have found make me a better listener.
To me, listening isn’t a skill suited to multi-tasking. If I were coaching you and spent my time checking my phone, would you feel like I was really listening to you? Neither would I.
In non-coaching environments, I demonstrate that I respect you by stopping what I’m doing and concentrating on listening to you. If I’m genuinely too busy to stop typing/reading/writing/anything else when you need to speak to me, I will ask if I can finish this task and then give you my full attention.
Letting you speak
There are few things as frustrating as being interrupted. Particularly at the start of a conversation, I need to let your story unfold before I jump in and add my comments.
That leads on to my next point …
Not making assumptions
One of the factors which leads us to interrupt is making assumptions – we listen to the start of the conversation and assume we know where it’s going, how the speaker might have reacted to the situation, what happens next. As soon as we do this, we’ve stopped listening.
Having stopped what I was doing, let you speak and not made assumptions, it’s a good idea if I then summarise back to you what I believe you’ve said. ‘So the shipment is held up by a typhoon, we’re not sure when it’s going to come into port and you think we should have a contingency plan – is that right?’ gives you the opportunity to add anything I might have missed or misunderstood before we move on.
Noticing what you’re not saying
Observing the non-verbal aspects of our conversation – your body language, facial expressions and demeanour – are as much a part of listening to you as the words you say. So is noticing the aspects of a situation which you don’t mention. Reading between the lines of our conversation, I can pick up so much more.
Today’s pebble for you to consider:
How will you show a colleague or friend that you are really listening?
I’d love to hear from you with any other tips or comments – I promise I’ll listen!
Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.
If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?