When was the last time you genuinely listened to someone without any other purpose other than to hear their story in its entirety, commit all your attention to them and respond empathetically? It’s tricky, isn’t it? Life is busy, there are a ton of distractors in the way. Plus, as humans, we are hard-wired to seek attention. We want to be loved and be understood. By default, our human nature wants us to be listened to, not the other way around!
Recently, some members of the Make Me Local team undertook a four-week online course with training expert, Russ Baleson, to understand more about the power of effective communicational skills and how they can enhance a customer’s experience with a business. We covered a wealth of interesting topics including communication styles, delivering feedback and empathy, the power of silence and gravitas, as well as how to test understanding.
However, the biggest takeaway for most participants was the module on listening skills. The discovery that there are those of us that listen, and those of us who wait to talk. We thought we would summarise some of the most useful things that we learned so you and your business may benefit from the knowledge too.
Why do we find it so difficult to listen?
We are taught to read and write, we are taught to walk and talk by copying those around us, but are we actually ever taught to listen? If those around us are not listening effectively then how are we supposed to learn the art? Listening is, however, a skill that can be honed, but it does require a conscious effort.
During our training with Russ, he asked us to imagine ourselves at a party where someone starts to tell a joke. He asked us to imagine ourselves standing there ‘listening’ to the joke being told and to think what would be going through our mind in that moment. We responded with things like:
- “I am hoping I understand the joke, so I won’t look stupid”
- “I’m trying to work out the punchline”
- “I’m thinking that I hope I don’t get asked to tell a joke”
- “Get me out of here”!
We all admitted that we probably would not be listening attentively to the joke teller, because there were so many things going on in our heads. The point was that it is exceedingly difficult to offer your complete attention to what someone else is saying, particularly in a professional environment where the consequences and pressure can be greater.
It is often difficult for us to listen fully to someone else because:
- Today’s world is fast paced. Multi-tasking has become a prerequisite.
- Our minds are on other things.
- Sometimes people are just not interesting, and we find ourselves switching off.
- We are mentally planning what we are going to respond with or how we are going to put our argument across.
- The person speaking has a dull, monotone voice that is not engaging in anyway.
- We disagree with what the person is saying and therefore just stop wanting to engage.
- We are hungry/thirsty.
- A message has just lit up our phone, or a notification has pinged up on the computer.
And the list goes on.
What can we do to make it easier to listen?
A few things that we noticed when learning about how to make listening easier are:
- Make and maintain eye contact. Whether talking to someone online or in person, maintaining eye contact allows you to connect with the other person more easily. We are not suggesting you stare excessively in a scary way, and we are not saying it won’t feel a little uncomfortable at times. However, it will show the person in front of you that they have your attention and nobody else’s.
- Truly listen rather than pretend to listen. Try and zone out to all the distractors that make it difficult to listen. Forget about trying to make the right facial gestures, nodding your head appropriately, positioning your body correctly, leaning in or making appropriate noises of acknowledgement. Trying to remember to do all these things will only take your attention away from the person in front of you.
- Go into the conversation with the sole intention of listening to the other person and understand what they are saying. Don’t listen from your perspective (i.e. how will this affect me). Simply try to understand from the other person’s viewpoint and listen from their perspective rather than your own.
- Don’t worry about body language. As we mentioned above, worrying about how you look will only distract you. If you are truly listening to understand, your body will naturally be doing the right things.
- Don’t try and multi-task – you know what we mean. No looking round the room or stroking the dog when you’re on a zoom call. No checking your phone under the desk. If someone approaches your desk in the office, stop tapping away at the keyboard, or put down your pen, and turn round and face them and give them your full attention. Otherwise, they will not feel listened to, not to mention that it is also just rude behaviour.
Remember, it may take a little practice. Trying to undo traits that we have developed over a long time or learn new skills that have not been taught to us at all, will take time. However, as Henry Ford once said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Are you really, truly listening to your internal and external customers? Is it time to make a change to the way you are listening and serving them? If you think you could be serving your customers more efficiently via your digital marketing, you know where we are.
Follow Russ online at @Russbaleson. Russ Baleson Training – The Online Management Training Specialists.