This article "The Essence of Listening" was written and delivered as a recent Toastmasters speech - Project 2 in the Competent Communicators Handbook. It was a project to organize a speech, with clear transitions, opening, closing, for delivery in 5-7 minutes.
At the bottom of this post is a game to test your linguistic skills in handling sales objections.
Listening is the most important life skill!
How do you rate your listening skills?
- Do you consider yourself to be a great listener?
- Do you consider your listening skills as not so great?
- Do you think you could improve your ability to listen?
EVERYONE should answer yes to question 3.
My goal in this speech is to motivate you to become a better listener and to impart a couple of techniques and resources that will help you become a better listener.
In my talk this morning, I'm going to explain why listening is the most important life skill.
Next, I'm going to explain the various types of listening and discuss some of the barriers to listening,
Finally I'm going to explain how you can become a better listener.
Let's begin with why listening is so important.
Why do we listen?
Listening is the most important life skill!
We Toastmasters are all here to become better speakers, how come there's no equivalent "Listening masters", where people can go and learn to become great listeners?
Becoming a better listener has the potential to transform the quality of our lives both at work and at home.
- At work, the great managers and leaders who inspire us are great listeners in addition to being great speakers.
- At home, becoming a better listener has the power to strengthen the relationships with our loved-ones, family and friends.
A question for you.
Think back over the past 2 weeks and the new people you met and spent more than 5 minutes with - what feeling did you take away from the encounter?
Do you think your feeling would be more positive if the person you met did all of the talking, or if you felt truly listened to and understood?
Why do we listen then?
- To get information; we ask questions and listen to the answers
- To build understanding and fully comprehend the subject/idea/concept
- To learn and acquire knowledge
- For enjoyment - the sound of nature, the sea, music, poetry, the spoken word
- For Social intercourse
Having established why listening is so important, it is appropriate to explore what we do when we listen.
What are Listening Levels and Barriers to Listening
We are all familiar with this; you're trying to get your point across in a meeting or presentation and half of the people in the room are on smart phones. It's frustrating and just plain rude.
Pretending to Listen
This is where you give the appearance of being engaged, but your mind is elsewhere. You are familiar with this if you are a buyer, pretending to listen to the sales pitch, when you already know what you want and need.
Salespeople are guilty of this, tuning-in for buying signals, objections or pain, instead truly listening to gain comprehension. Married couples are also good at selective listening, tuning-out anything that sounds like nagging, complaining or "honey-do's".
Imagine you are the newly appointed country manager for an American subsidiary in Japan. Your plane just touched down, you don't speak the language, but had a month long language course prior to arrival.
This is exactly what happened to former IBM chairman Sam Palmisano. Someone asked Sam in an IBM executive meeting why his time in Japan was so important to his leadership development... his answer is telling.
“Because I learned to listen.” He also said, “I learned to listen by having only one objective: comprehension.
I was only trying to understand what the person was trying to convey to me. I wasn’t listening to critique or object or convince.”
Attentive listening is not the highest level of listening though.
Empathy is where we step into someone else's shoes, understand what they are saying and reflecting back the emotions they are feeling. We can tell instinctively how truly interested and empathic the other person is when they listen to us. If these are the levels of listening, what prevents us from understanding?
Barriers to Listening - our Perception Filters
All human communication is subject to deletions, distortions and generalizations. We cannnot possibly store or process everything we hear. We further filter our perception through behavioral filters including;
- Metaprograms that unconsciously filter our perception.
If there are so many natural barriers to understanding and levels of listening, how can we become better listeners?
How to Become a Better Listener
We can become better listeners through practicing active listening and through the use of language.
Active listening at a high level means putting your thoughts on hold, getting into rapport, feeding back your understanding.
- Listening starts with rapport.
- Rapport is a perfectly natural process and develops automatically in open and friendly conversation.
- All humans and many animals have mirror neurons that work unconsciously to enable us to experience the emotions the other person is feeling, just by tuning in to them.
- We can accelerate the process by initally by mirroring physiology, language and tonality.
Paraphrase, repeat back and ask questions to clarify understanding - get confirmation.
Use empathy to convey understanding, how they feel/ must have felt.
Finally, language skill is important in reconstructing meaning from deletions, distortions, generalizations and perception filters.
Learning to unpack to the speakers language will help you become a better listener.
Drill-down on any surface-structure statements and fluffy language to get to deep structure of meaning the other person is trying to convey (or hide).
With that I'd like to summarize my talk today.
In summary, listening is the most important life skill as it has the ability to improve the quality of our life through transforming our relationships with loved ones and at work.
Now that we know the different types of listening and the barriers, we can work toward becoming better listeners, by practicing active listening and language skills.
Listening is hard, it takes effort and practice.
I wish you well in improving your listening skills.
Join a Toastmasters near you.
Get better at storytelling and story-tending by attending a StorySeekers workshop.
Explore the Psychology of Selling and understand Metaprograms and other techniques to level the playing field with buyers
Precision in Language Exercise
The following exercise is excerpted from the Selling Psychology section of our Selling in the Internet Age, Adaptive E-Learning program. It uses a number of linguistic techniques and should be both amusing as well as informative.