A word is worth one coin; silence is worth two. – The Talmud
Years ago, I had a colleague at work who planted his Jumbotron-sized computer monitor on his desk so it blocked his view of anyone sitting across from him.
He might as well have taped a sign on the back of the monitor that said, “I’m playing solitaire while you’re talking.”
What amused me about his setup is that he gave the pretense of caring when someone came into his office to chat. Still, though, he spent as long as they needed going through at least the theater of listening.
This wasted his time and theirs.
Even if you don’t have a huge computer monitor on your desk, when you’re not listening as effectively as possible, you’re wasting time, too. And if the conversation between you and someone else takes half an hour, it actually wastes an hour’s labor (your time and theirs).
Here are 5 simple and proven techniques for radically improve your listening (and optimize the time you spend doing it!):
1. Clear your mind. You can’t effectively think about your last conversation, your next email, and what someone is saying who’s sitting right in front of you. If you find it difficult to clear your mind, tell yourself, “I’m here to listen to whatever this person has to say, and I’m focused just on that.”
2. Clear your desk. Remove anything unrelated to the meeting or conversation you’re about to have. Turn off your computer monitor (yes, it has an on/off button!) and sit on the same side of your desk as the person with whom you’re talking.
3. Imagine what they’re saying. Harry Beckwith, author ofYou, Inc., said because we think in images, it’s helpful to imagine what someone is saying when they talk to you. Even if you’re not familiar with what they’re describe, try to visualize what they’re describing.
4. Pause for a second. Beckwith also suggests that you pause for a full second after the other person finishes speaking before you speak. This shows them you heard every word. It keeps you focused on what they were saying, not what you want to say. It adds needed space to the conversation.
5. Time-limit the conversation. Set a limit for the discussion before you begin. I almost always suggest one-on-one meetings of 30 or 15 minutes. Why does this improve your listening? Because it’s easier to focus when you know how much time you’ll spend listening. You’re much less likely to drift when you know you have to focus for 15 minutes than when there seems to be no end in sight to the discussion.
Combine all five and you’ll not only listen more effectively, you’ll encourage others to share more with you and do so more efficiently. And in business, as you know, time is money. So is listening well.
If you have listening techniques and tips you typically use, post them below!
David, the point about stopping whatever you are doing and really giving your full attention to the other person is what has worked best for me. Our super-multi-task lifestyles demand that we absorb so much information so quickly, we’ve almost forgotten what listening is. Like our computers, we need to ‘power down’ to really listen. It’s not just about hearing, it’s about engaging. Great article!
Body language is so important when I am talking, and listing. People can tell if you are honest, and caring by the way not only what you say, but your facial expression.
Sometimes people tells me more than I need to know, but than again what ever is said to me people can trust me to never let the cat out of the bag.
Victoria — thanks very much for that comment! I think we’ve gone into a “multi-tasking trance” as you note, and that’s not a good thing.
Gwynne — sounds like you’re a very trustworthy listener!