By Mike Mazan

Listening ImageOne of the joys and pains of being a parent is realizing that your kids repeat your habits and behaviors. After observing my kids listening habits, I quickly realized this was an area that I needed to improve. While I always thought I listened well, watching my habits present themselves as my kids’ habits showed me that I have plenty of room to improve.

Studies have concluded that 70-80% of our waking hours involve some form of communication. The majority of which is spent listening. Poor listening can be the root cause of many personal and professional problems. But all is not lost. Just like any other skill, the art of listening can be improved, honed, and practiced. From Madelyn Burley-Allen’s book entitled Listening: The Forgotten Skill, here are a handful of ideas that you may find useful in helping improve your listening skills:

  1. Search for Something You Can Use & Find Areas of Common Interest
    Strive to gain something positive from what’s being said. Seek things of value to you.
  2. Take the Initiative & Work at Listening
    Find out what the talker knows. Ask questions, use non-committal acknowledgements such as “I see”… “How about that”… and “Really, tell me more.” Reach for the idea(s) being conveyed. Effective listening takes energy. Practice makes it easier. Listen actively. Provide feedback on what you’re hearing to confirm understanding and affirm the other party. Decide to become a better listener and focus on it.
  3. Focus on Ideas & Make Meaningful Notes
    Listen for the central ideas to identify and remember them as they’re presented. Practice separating facts from principles, ideas from examples, and objective evidence from opinion. Note main ideas or points. Review them later. Keep the notes short and don’t stop listening to write. Expand them later if necessary.
  4. Resist External Distractions & Watch for Non-Verbal Cues
    Watch body language and other non-verbal clues. Concentrate on listening, maintain eye contact, and avoid distracting settings.
  5. Hold Your Response/Rebuttal
    Pause for a few seconds to “process,” show respect, and collect your thoughts. Don’t let emotions knock you off track. Use your notes to jot down any issues or rebuttal points for later. Don’t be defensive. Listen until you’re sure that the speaker has presented all of their main ideas or points.
  6. Keep an Open Mind & Ask Questions to Clarify Understanding
    Don’t draw conclusions or get too heated, too quickly. Attempt to fully understand the speaker’s perspective by asking questions (e.g., “How do you mean, exactly?”) and repeating their message in your own words (e.g., “Let me see if I’ve got this right…”).
  7. Capitalize on Thought Speed to Review & Summarize
    We can think at the rate of 2000 or more words per minute but speak at only 150-200. Use this 10X differential to review what’s been said, point-by-point. Ask yourself mental questions such as, “Where’s this going?” and “Why is this important?”
  8. Practice Regularly
    Like with most skills, improved listening is the result of focused practice. Challenge yourself. Look for opportunities to practice. This can redeem otherwise boring or difficult situations, turning them into opportunities.
  9. Evaluate & Be Critical of Content, Not the Speaker’s Delivery
    Capturing content is more important than the speaker’s appearance. Don’t let their voice, mannerisms, personality, or appearance get in the way of the message. Remember that most people (including us) aren’t very artful in transmitting their message.

For me the key habit that I needed to change was the fourth idea – maintaining eye contact and concentrate on listening. Once I started changing my habits, I started to see the change in my kids too. Maybe the same is true of us as leaders in our organizations as well. What of these areas do you have room to improve in? Perhaps with a little improvement, you will see that others around you are also improving.