“There is no sound so sweet as the sound of one’s own voice”
The new year is a natural time to re-dedicate ourselves to those traits we know to be true, but we drift away from due to the intense activity cycle of daily living. One of those is the art and discipline of listening – a difficult skill for many, made more difficult in our current age of unrelenting sensory input
It was many years ago when I was introduced to various adages, like the one above, which lamented the difficulty of listening:
“Salespeople are good at two things: talking, and waiting to talk”.
“God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason”
I don’t profess to be a great listener, but over the course of my career I have found that some of the biggest deals I’ve done were created more through my ears than my mouth. Generally, if you listen to people, they will lead you down the path you need to follow, and the journey to a closed deal becomes easier.
In this insightful post, Judith E. Glaser talks about her experience working with groups of people who are talking past one another, and isolates common traits many of us might see in ourselves, such as devoting little time in meetings for questions, wasting the opportunity to learn by asking questions which are really statements in disguise, and so on.
Since I do not hold myself up as a paragon of listening perfection, here are some personal challenges I have, and what I have learned along the way to address my weakness.
Where I Struggle:
– In the middle of conversations, I tend to think of interrelationships between something I hear and some other business issue I’m struggling with. It’s sort of a semi-disciplined form of a wandering mind. I thought I was unusual in this regard until I read Ms. Glaser state the following: “To compound conversational challenges, the brain disconnects about every 12-18 seconds to evaluate and process, which means we’re often paying as much attention to our own thoughts as we are to other people’s words.”
– Working on the computer while on a conference call. Admit it – you probably do it too.
– I pace when I talk on a phone call in my home office. Evidently I’m under some misimpression that my brain operates in a manner similar to the lights many of us had on the bikes of our youth, where energy and light could only be generated during motion. This makes note-taking a challenge (see next point).
What I try to do:
– Take notes. For me, I have found this to be the best method for forcing my brain to be fully present and engaged in what I am hearing. When you take notes, you are far more likely to recall what you heard (and said in response) later. Note-taking during meetings conveys attention and respect to those you are meeting with. When you are busy taking notes you are less likely to have a wandering mind.
– Sometimes I turn off the monitor during conference calls. It’s not as brutal as turning off the computer, but leaning forward and simply pressing the power button on my monitor helps me get “in the zone” for the call.
– I try to remember habit number five from Stephen R. Covey’s seminal The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. Character traits we might associated with listening include self-discipline (being able to regulate your own need to speak) and humility (demonstrating your understanding that others may know something you do not).
In the Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln, during a critical juncture to secure the necessary votes to pass the 13th amendment, President Lincoln is having a furtive conversation with a trio of men who are (sometimes indelicately) encouraging house members to vote the President’s way.
When one of the men indicates he understands Lincoln’s intentions, Lincoln says “What a joy it is to be comprehended”.