The Lost Art of Listening


“I’m sorry: who was shot?” You would think it wouldn’t be something someone could miss, but I did. Because I suffer from something many of us do: poor listening skills.

And we’re the victim as well. My friend “Bob” (If you read this blog often, you know I apparently have a lot of friends named “Bob”) struggles with a boss who always has all the answers before the questions are even asked.

So what’s the problem? And how do we change this?

Walks with Tristan
When my son Tristan is over he pretty much keeps to himself. We might eat together or watch an episode of Psych together, but otherwise he almost exclusively stays in his room studying, reading, or playing video games with his friends. That is, he does but for one exception: we take a quick walk on our street and talk.

As Tristan is growing and keeping more to himself, we started the walks as a way to connect every day he’s over. It’s only about 15 minutes but it helps us maintain a better relationship.

But I find that when we head out the door, my mind is sometimes focused on other things. In those times it’s hard for me to disengage. As we walk, we’ll be in a conversation and I’ll realize I’ve missed the last two sentences.

I love hearing what’s going on with him and what he’s doing, even as he’s relaying the play-by-play of the last firefight he had with his friends. As soon as I realize that I don’t know who shot whom, I have to reset my focus and keep my mind engaged.

Meetings with the Boss
Bob has a similar situation with his boss, although not entirely the same.

Unlike the situation with my son, Bob’s boss, “Jill” is not interested in hearing what Bob has to say. She’s a textbook example of what Steven Covey said “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. Most people listen with the intent to reply.”

It doesn’t matter what Bob says – Jill has a view of the world that will not be altered. In that world, Bob is a nuisance. It doesn’t matter that work is not able to be completed, that the team is about half its previous size, or that morale is and has been extremely low.

To Jill, Bob’s highlighting of the challenges are negativity, and his solutions to solve them are all wrong. Jill doesn’t listen to Bob with the intent to understand. Jill waits for Bob to stop talking so she can reply with her ideas.

Jill has all the answers.

Three Simple Steps
What’s the best way to fix this? We can’t change how other people listen, but we can change how we listen. We can always improve, but some are in more need of it than others. Are you listening well? To find out, ask yourself two questions:

  • When people talk, am I fully engaged?
  • When people talk do I try to understand them, or am I trying to think up the best way to reply?

If we want to become the best listeners we can be, there are three simple steps we can take.

  • Clear your mind: Get rid of any thoughts you might have that are keeping you distracted. Reschedule if necessary. Focus on listening.
  • Try to understand: When someone else in a conversation is talking, your goal is not to convince them of something. Your goal is to truly understand their perspective and their position. Even if you are trying to persuade them of a positive action to take, you must understand their position first. If you try to persuade them and they aren’t persuaded, it’s quite likely because you don’t understand their position.
  • Verify your understanding: Also known as active listening, before doing anything else, verify what you understand from what they’ve said. Often this will lead to a clarification and a clearer understanding.

If you want to be listened to, be a good listener. It will help others, but it will help you even more.

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About the author

David is a father, speaker, blogger (obviously), and author of How to Create Amazing Presentations sharing the tools, tips, and techniques of the experts to make you an amazing presenter, 7 Steps to Better Relationships built on the stories and lessons on this blog with seven easy steps to help you maximize your interactions with the people you care about most, and The Man in the Pit to help you care for loved ones struggling with depression.

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