Three Ways to Listen Better
Build Trust, Strengthen Relationships, and Spur Productivity
We are more connected than ever. The speed with which we can talk to each other is sometimes staggering and most certainly worthy of a moment or two of gratitude. But all that speed and urgency has a cost. We’re easily distracted by every blip, beep, and chime of our devices and apps – things meant to keep us connected, but that often separate us from who we’re with right now.
The art of listening grows rarer by the day. The simple act of holding space with someone and, without distraction, and truly hearing what they’re choosing to share with you.
This is true across our personal and professional relationships. And, even though it can feel like small potatoes in an overloaded day, our listening habits are worth, well, listening to. The appeal of being busy is a powerful force. Consciously choosing to listen better is a slower, more deliberate practice, but one that can improve both the quality of our work and the relationships that are woven into it while helping us avoid the pitfalls of the “babble hypothesis.”
Try these three ways to listen better and improve your listening game.
1. Talk Once, Listen Twice I learned this gem from the incredible Delia Clark and have carried it with me ever since. It’s such a simple instruction and yet it can completely upend conversational patterns – in a good way! Plus, it functions in both directions.
For the extroverts among us, it’s the second half that requires focus and practice. Making a conscious choice to break the back-and-forth rhythm of “I Speak – You Speak,” opens the door to other voices and what could be a remarkably different discussion.
If you’re in the introvert club with me, it’s the first part that may require your attention. Taking responsibility to add to a conversation, even if it feels unnerving, is an important contribution. When I struggle with that, I take a page from Susan Cain’s book Quiet, and start by asking useful questions until I have my footing.
2. Listen Instead of Waiting to Talk There’s a fantastic line from the movie Pulp Fiction, when Uma Thurman’s character asks John Travolta’s hitman character if “…in conversation, do you listen or wait to talk?” He thinks for a moment and then answers that he waits to talk but, he’s “trying to listen more.”
Waiting to talk is such a common detour on the road to listening. It can be especially tricky to avoid when we feel we can solve a problem, offer useful advice, or just want to share what we feel is our incredibly valuable two cents. But, think of all we miss when we’re simply waiting to talk. We catch one nugget from the other person and then, internally, talk over the rest of their thoughts while crafting our own reply.
Instead of waiting to talk, or worse, interrupting, try this tactic. Write down a one- or two-word reminder that reflects the burning thought in your mind and then switch back to listening. The words you jotted down will serve as a reminder to help you quickly refocus when it’s your turn to share. Plus, you’ll have the benefit of having been fully present for the words just spoken.
3. Try Single-Tasking One of the benefits of good time and task management is that you identify your priorities and allot sufficient time for them. It doesn’t mean that all incoming pings will stop as competing priorities and life in general jockey for your attention. Of course not!
But when you consciously choose to make space in your day for something of value – a meeting, a lunch, a walk, a story – you elevate it. So, honor that decision by giving it your undivided attention. Shut your door. Utilize your “Do Not Disturb” feature. Turn off your notifications. Close your computer (*gasp*). Be present, engaged, and invested in where you are and who you’re with.
Better Listening for Better Productivity
If you consider productivity as the ratio of input to output, better listening may be the simplest and most effective tool we have. When we’re focused, we take in information more effectively. In turn, this helps us make better decisions, offer better counsel, and cultivate better ideas. In terms of relationships, better listening strengthens communication, builds trust, and nurtures camaraderie both professionally and personally.
Better listening is a choice. One we make – or don’t – hundreds of times each day. Choose differently and see what develops.