Monday, June 23, 2008

What Are You Listening For?

I was with a group of professionals this week, discussing various aspects of advice-giving. It was a good discussion that led me to think about the importance of listening skills. It’s a weak area for many and we all need to be reminded to pay attention — because often people are not listening but thinking.

Whether you are seeking advice, having a discussion, or a heated debate, following a few simple rules will make these situations more productive and enable you to gain further knowledge and insights:

1. Simply listen. Unfortunately, most people who ask for advice don’t really want it. They want you to confirm a decision they already made. Go back to square one. Whatever discussion you are having, just simply listen. Do not listen for confirmation. Do not listen for incorrect facts. Do not listen for argument. Just listen.

In a discussion where there are conflicting views, this is even more important. If neither party is listening, it will be endless talk. Try to catch yourself and ask, “What am I listening for?” One tool you can use in conflicts is to “listen for agreement” and build the discussion from these points.

2. Be patient. Wait for the other person to finish before responding. This allows to you listen to everything and shows that you are just listening and not waiting for an entry point in the conversation. Of course there are situations and people that don’t always allow for this, but try it. If you’re dealing with a person who takes 20 minutes to explain a point that typically takes one minute, then just hope you have enough time in that day or politely leave the discussion.

3. Be focused. This is for your own benefit, and to show respect to your colleague, friend or the person on the street. Focus on the person’s words, meaning and intent, so you carry the conversation to an interesting or productive level.

Also, remember to maintain eye contact. This shows the other person that you’re focused and listening, and it helps you concentrate on the conversation.

4. Listen generously. Try to listen without biases or questioning intent. This allows for doors to open into new areas or topics. One example could be if a colleague that you typically know to be a goofball comes to you for serious advice. If you carry your biases about him across the board, then you might react to his inquiry as if it’s a joke and offend him.

If you encounter a bad intent that is repeated in the discussion (give the person at least one benefit of the doubt), then it’s a different story and you can politely walk away. An obvious offensive statement is another situation where you don’t have to be focused and can rightly question a person’s intent.

Originally published at InsideWork.

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