Listen to understand and not to speak (and four ways to do it)

I am an extrovert. My brother tells me I am on the extreme end of that. Whether that is scientifically true or not, it paints a picture of how I love people, I love stories, I love to tell them – basically I love to talk! My wife jokes that when she asks me how my day was, I start with  “Well …” (cue launching into a story about the car journey, the train journey, the people I met, and that is before I get into work).

I find listening hard, but I am learning to love it. I recently had the privilege of shadowing a coaching company who do fantastic work with corporates, teaching their senior leadership to listen. It was a three day workshop – three days on listening??!! Who does that? Well it turns out that if you can’t listen to your clients they won’t really listen to your story and you won’t win influence or business. So really, spending three days on this skill is the least we need to do.

What have I learnt over that time? Well I have learnt that silence is the best thing. In my desire to encourage people I have a tendency to end their sentences, to jump in with an anecdote, or worse even (and maybe because I am a man), to try and fix them. After these three days I went home to my wife, listened about her day and her response was “What have you done? The kids aren’t screaming, that was really easy to talk about”. Now I can’t guarantee that listening means that kids won’t scream (!!), but maybe in that moment I heard everything else around me instead of what I wanted to hear, I cared more for the speaker than for my voice.

Here are some thoughts to help you along the way of great listening:

1) Silence is golden. When someone speaks and they pause, even if it seems like they are ending their thought process, just be silent for a little bit longer. It is amazing what people come out with.

2) You don’t have to fix it. In silence, in encouraging people to keep talking, in playing back what they are saying so I can make sure I understand what they are saying, they often  realise their answer to their problem. If they really don’t have the answer then they will atleast be able to ask you a specific question that helps with the problem.

3) You don’t have to win. When I am talking with people whose opinion I disagree with (my child, my friend, my team, my clients), I want to be right. How do I do that? I interrupt. I fear that if I don’t speak then somehow my voice will be lost or they won’t hear the truth. Sometimes they just want to hear that they are loved. That is enough.

4) Say “because”.  This is my favourite one. Try it today. Someone will say to you “I had a rubbish night last night. I couldn’t sleep”. There are loads of responses: “Atleast you have a bed to sleep in” (judgement), “Oh, well you should try this really cool mattress I bought from John Lewis” (fixing/taking over the story), or “Because”… Have a go and see what it does to the conversation.

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