8 Facts, Stories And Magic Phrases For Real Listening

“Wisdom is the reward you get from a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” Doug Larson

These brains of ours are so loaded with information we can’t seem to sleep or listen. We read more information in one New York Times newspaper, than people in the 16th century had access to during their whole life.

Hearing is easy; listening is hard. Here are 8 insights we can use to master deep listening skills:

1. We think at over 900 words a minute, and we talk and hear at only 125 words a minute. What this really means is that we are thinking while someone else is talking. If we take our 900 words of thought and apply our thinking to what is being said through the speaker’s body language, verbal tones, phrases and their actual words, we will get a window into someone’s deeper emotions. We might find the inherent disappointment, total joy, frustration, happiness, exhaustion, or defeat that lies underneath the simple phrase, “Oh, I’m good. How are you?”

“The most important aspect of communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Peter Drucker

2. “I wish my husband would say fewer ‘I love you’s’ and more ‘Tell me more’s.’” Men tend to listen in order to respond while women tend to listen in order to understand.

3. Learn to utilize this magic phrase – “Wow, interesting! Please tell me more.” And people will. We only scratch the surface in most of our communications with people because we know they aren’t really listening. We know they aren’t really listening because we don’t. If given a green light toward emptying our bucket of thought we will. We need to be heard, but often resist talking expansively until given permission by the listener. We are anxious that if we tell someone more about us, but they don’t listen, understand or support us, we will be embarrassed, ashamed or shunned. The key to getting beyond initial phrases to deeper listening, and going from wants (i.e. compensation) to real human needs (i.e. being respected and treated fairly), is using thoughtful concentration to really understand.

“The most powerful words are in the silence of a well-timed pause.” Mark Twain

4. “Hold that thought, I gotta take this.” At a very low point in my life, I recall my boss wanting to see me in his office. As I sat there with him telling me stuff from safely behind his desk while looking at his computer, he then asked me, “What else is going on?” I said, “Well, I’m not really myself ….my wife has been diagnosed with leukemia and we aren’t sure how to tell the kids.” The phone rang and he announced the phrase that has been in my brain since, “Hold that thought, I gotta take this.” All his work ethic, ingenuity, intellect and power was simply out the window, and I was left with this stark memory of bad listening. During future 1:1’s and meetings he’d ask me, “How’s that situation, of yours?” Wow. I am grateful for his bad example, which guides me daily to try not to be that type of listener.

5. The skills of listening are not the same skills as asking questions. Listening is they-centered, while questions are me-centered. As others talk, we actually say – ‘when was this,’ ‘who else was involved,’ ‘what was said after that,’ ‘where did this take place.’ They sound like good questions, and those are our interests. Use your magic phrase and the true point of their story may unfold very differently.

6. “I love that guy” – Sean, a good consultant friend of mine, recently shared with me this story. Sean was at a friend’s BBQ, and a neighbor James, whom he hadn’t previously known, started talking with Sean about his work. After about 30 minutes of Sean simply nodding, saying “Wow” and listening to his neighbor James with genuine interest, they parted ways. A few weeks later Sean was in the grocery store and ran into his friend whom hosted the BBQ. His friend asked Sean if he knew James, and Sean wasn’t sure. His friend said, “Sure you know James, you talked with him for 30 minutes at my house.” Sean then recalled James sharing his story about work. Sean hadn’t really spoken to James, and listened and his friend said, “Man, James loves you. He goes on and on about how much he enjoyed meeting you at my house.” Again, Sean didn’t even talk, but simply acknowledged James through being present and truly listening. Listening is incredibly powerful!

“Better relationships are built through seeking first to understand and then be understood.” Stephen Covey – Don’t Be Efficient with People.

7. This helps – look at your watch or look around the room while someone is speaking. Recently, in an account presentation, while the client was talking, I saw the salesperson nod their head and reach into their bag to grab sales literature – while the client was still talking! Watching this spoke volumes to me about this salesman’s technique, and the underlying meaning in his actions, of – “I am pretending to listen, but in fact I am preparing to overcome your statements and provide evidence that I am right.”

8. Gary and the motorcycle. At a holiday party several years ago my friend Gary was talking with 3 of us about his motorcycle trip to Iowa. Gary started telling us about going from LA through Palm Springs, and another friend asked about hotels and golf in the area. We went down that story for a while, and then Gary talked about going through Las Vegas, and soon we were talking about gambling, shows and all the lights. I recognized that Iowa hadn’t been in our conversation at all, so I asked Gary about Iowa, which he had totally forgotten about since we were immersed in other side stories. He further talked about his motorcycle ride to Iowa, which we learned was to see his sick mother before she passed, and about how special that was for all of them. We had talked about hotels and golf, but the point of Gary’s story was actually very different. We ended up talking about what we were thinking and not about what was being said. Gary’s story was about something more real, and we assumed we knew it was just a trip. It was not just a trip; not to Gary or his family!

Are you Listening?


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