Listening is an art form – one that few master and many ignore. There is a common theme running through most great leaders and communicators, and it’s that they are great listeners.
How many times have you answered a question, only to have to try a few more times before you actually answer the right question. Most of the time, this happens because you aren’t listening.
Hearing is one thing. Listening is another thing entirely.
How many times have you been staring straight into the eyes of a preacher in the middle of a fiery sermon, only to realize you have no idea what he has said for the last 10 minutes? How often do you find the same thing happening in 1-on-1 conversations?
Listening is a Developable Skill
It’s true, some people are just boring and hard to listen to. But as leaders and communicators, we have to learn to listen. We should spend as much time learning to listen as we spend learning to speak.
In marketing, listening is of utmost importance. We religiously check our metrics to see what has happened to our website. We want to know how many people are downloading our eBooks, how many are visiting what pages, and why some buy while others don’t.
In short, we are listening to the thousands of people who interact with our website. The companies who fail to dig into their metrics, and learn what they mean, are those with the worst websites and a horrible buying experience.
Personal relationships and church evangelism are no different. What message impacts one person, won’t impact the other. Messages of deliverance excite some while messages of love have the sweetest sound for others. You must listen to the individual to understand them. In short, know your audience online, in person, and in the pulpit.
The 5 Don’ts of Listening
I have a practice of writing down notes in journals from books I have read. The following comes from such a journal entry, although I failed to write what book it was. If anyone recognizes the below, please inform me so I can update that journal entry.
1. Don’t Fiddle
Fiddling around while someone is talking to you means you are bored and disengaged. In other words, what they are saying isn’t important to you.
Fiddling can come in many forms. One problem I have is looking around. Even when I am actively listening to someone, I have a habit of looking around the room, especially when I’m in a crowd. Afterward, I kick myself for being so rude. But it’s a hard habit to break.
Try focusing on the person during conversation. Don’t jingle change in your pocket, or fidget around. Look them in the eye, nod, and respond to what they are saying.
2. Don’t Relate Everything to Yourself
Do you know people like this? Don’t be like them.
These “me monsters” always turn the conversation back to themselves, and it’s annoying. The best conversationalists are those who can keep everyone else talking while they listen. Those who people love to talk to are the ones who know how to “pull” talking out of them.
Next time you want to jump in with how something applies to you, practice turning the conversation back to them instead. It takes practice, but instead of responding with “I know! Last week I…” – try responding with something like “I know! How did that make you feel?” The other person won’t realize what you’re doing, but they will enjoy the conversation more.
3. Don’t Check Your Phone
Again, this one is hard for me. We’re all glued to our phone and have people engaging us all the time. But nothing is more annoying that spending time with someone in person when they are on their phone the whole time.
It’s like a comedy sketch… a person walks up to the counter to ask a question or buy a product. The phone rings. The clerk leaves the in-person paying customer to answer the phone as if the phone is a more important subject at the moment. It could be a prank caller, a wrong number, a personal call to the teenager in the back, or someone looking for a new coaster set for their dollhouse… but it doesn’t matter. We will wait with our money in hand while the person at home in their underwear gets preferential treatment.
I know we get tweets, and texts, and now Periscope broadcasts – but let the phone stay in its rightful place. When you are in conversation with someone, you don’t need to check your text messages. Wait 5 minutes, and then check them.
4. Don’t Clip!
You know what it’s like when – “yeah I do, but back to what I was saying!”
Another bad habit. As an introvert, I struggle with this one too.
Rather than really listening to what the person is saying, we are thinking about what we are going to say. As soon as there is a break, we jump in with our comment. This is called clipping, and it’s rude. It’s usually tied to the statements about ourselves as well, which makes it a double no-no.
Do your best to pause between exchanges. When someone asks you a question, consider it before answering. Think about it – then respond.
Usually, the rushed answer is because we have something we want to say, not exactly tied to what they were saying.
Slow down, professor. Listen to the questions and the stories. Then respond with an open-ended question to move the conversation forward.
5. Don’t Change the Subject
How many ADD people does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Let’s go ride bikes!
Yeah, one conversation is probably going to cover many topics – but they don’t have to take hairpin turns based on a whim either. When you are in a conversation, and you change topics suddenly, it could make the other person feel like their topics weren’t interesting enough. Not always, but it happens.
The best practice is to stay on topic until it’s naturally time to change. If you must bring up something that is totally off-topic, apologize and acknowledge the shift. Just be sure you don’t say something like, “I’m sorry, I’m bored. Let’s talk about something else.”
Being a Great Listener
Great listening skills might not impact your life-long pals. But it will have a major effect on those who you meet for the first time.
When we meet someone for the first time, we are asking three questions:
- Do I like you?
- Are you smart?
- Can I trust you?
Being a great listener makes us more likable. A good listener is better at asking thoughtful questions, which makes them seem smarter and more engaged. And when you are genuinely interested in what a person has to say, they will feel like they can trust you much sooner than they would a Me Monster.
What listening skills have you picked up over the years? Share them in the comments!