A Lesson in Listening & Why Shutting up is Critical

“Frankly, I had never thought of listening as an important subject by itself. But now that I am aware of it, I think that perhaps 80% of my work depends on my listening to someone, or on someone else listening to me.” - HBR: Listening to People 

As the old saying goes - we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. And, though it may not be easy or natural for most people, learning how to effectively listen can be a powerful life tool. Leading to better communication and in turn, deepening our relationships. In contrast, poor listening can stall our career, lead to failed relationships and make us feel isolated. This is the ladies and I at ChickChat Sessions thought it was a very worthwhile topic to explore. Moreover, from someone who has been consciously working on becoming a better listener for over a decade, I can promise you it is worth the effort.

Every relationship takes work but they're the cornerstone of our lives, thus, there is no doubt that investing in them will yield positive results. I heard a fantastic saying the other day that to be loved is to be understood. To understand someone, you have to listen. Note that listening is different from hearing. To actively listen you must hold back from making a judgment, giving your opinion, preparing what you will say next and/or simply interrupting. When we can achieve this, we are open to really listening to someone.

In contrast, just think how many times you’ve been interrupted and immediately feel deflated, or come home from a hard day at work and vent to your partner only to be interrupted with their opinions on what you should have done. Being on the receiving end of poor listening is frustrating, to say the least, and can damage any relationship. However, when others feel listened to because you are using good listening skills, the exchange will always be productive. 

5 Tactics to Become a Better Listener:

1. Make it about THEM - We all know what it's like to be listening to someone and have a brilliant idea or similar anecdote pop up in our head and hold back interrupting the conversation to get it out. This is exactly what we want to avoid. When speaking to someone be conscious of the fact it is about them. Put them first. Personally, this is not easy for me as a talker and attention seeker, so as a tactic I say the last two letters of the last word they say- which helps me keep focused on what they are saying and also provides a pause to allow them to continue talking if they wish. You should enter each conversation with the goal to listen to them first. In doing so, whatever you want to say or wish to get out of the conversation will happen and much smoother.

2. Ask Questions - One of the easiest ways to actively listen and show that you are listening, is to ask questions. Whether it's your partner, friend, co-worker or child the more questions you can ask the better you will understand them and thus, improve communication overall. There are several types of questions you can consider, and below are three easy types to get started.

A. Clarification Questions - Sometimes the subject matter can be complex and anything but straightforward, thus, asking a question to ensure you are following their line of thinking can help keep you both on the same page. Paraphrasing can also be very powerful to show the listener both that you are listening and that you understand.

B. Informational Questions - Find something they have said that they can elaborate on. For example, if your friend just went on a trip ask for more details. If a coworker assigns you something, find out why or what it will be used for. Again, this shows that your listening and engaged. A sign of a good friend or a great date.

C. Emotional Questions - This is a great type of question for deepening a relationship as we can better come to understand how one feels. Over the past couple years I have completely moved away from asking my partner “what are you thinking” to “what are you feeling”. Firstly, because all feelings are valid and contrary to popular belief control our thoughts and secondly, it helps me further understand their values and drivers. Allowing me to avoid distressed areas and or encourage positive feelings in the future.

3. Follow-up - Another great way to demonstrate active listening, is to effectively follow-up. Studies show that we remember 50% of what we hear immediately following the exchange and 25% or less two months following. Personally, I think I score even lower. Thus, I always recommend following up within 24hrs with related questions. 

4. Withhold Judgement - Anyone as opinionated as me will find this listening tactic hard, however, maybe the most important for us to learn if we wish to learn and grow. As Robert Heinlein said, “I never learned from a man who agreed with me." Thus, despite your initial gut feeling or desire to deflect what someone's saying, try to embrace it without judgment and rather try to learn their viewpoint. Two things will happen - 1. You will understand them better and sympathize with why they feel the way they do or 2. You will strengthen your argument. Either way, it is a win-win.

5. Make the Time - A great way to get someone to listen or to have you listen is setting up the right expectations. When I call someone I always like to ask if now is a good time and if they have 20mins. In contrary to this, I think of the telephone sales robots that call, unannounced and ramble for 5 minutes without giving you a clue as to why or what they want - if you are like me you are checked out immediately. Making sure you or the listener has the time to actively listen and engage is crucial to making the conversation productive.

These 5 tactics are to help you work on becoming a better listener, however, it is important to also be aware of when you can’t listen. We’ve all been caught trying to fake it, and it is never nice being on the receiving end. Recently, while we were getting ready to shoot an episode of Chick Chat, we were talking and Sandy interrupted and said: "I am sorry but I am not able to actively listen right now as I am busy setting up." Though she wasn’t talking, she was honest about her inability to concentrate on what we were saying. In doing so, it showed that she cared about what I was saying. I will never forget that and as part of my learning will always try to be aware of when I can’t listen and to be honest, as those talking deserve that. 

"One of the most sincere forms of sincerest respect is to actually listening to what another has to say" - Bryant McGill