Have You Got Your Listening Ears On?

Learn how to have great conversations. Observations from a time when I shouldn’t have been listening, but was.

Most jobs, and life in general, rely on us having conversations. Great conversations. Yet very few people do it really well. Have you ever wondered why? Companies spend gazillions on training to “communicate” more effectively with their staff, to enable leaders to be more influential and mobilise teams, to increase engagement with their customers and so the list goes on.

Shouldn’t “communication” be simple and easy?

Well, YES it can! All you need to start doing, is listen. It’s as simple as that.

Earlier today I overheard a mom ask her young daughter “Darling, do you have your listening ears on?” I leaned in as I was curious to hear her response. The little girl just stuck her fingers in her ears. Imagine that! It wasn’t what I had expected when I was pretending not to listen. This was a sure sign that she wasn’t in a listening mood — and judging by the look on the mother’s face, it wasn’t the response the mom was after either. But you have to be impressed by her honesty, don’t you?!

Seeing this unfold, sparked a few thoughts. How well do we really listen? The little girl wasn’t interested in listening to what her mother had to say. She had her own agenda. The airwaves were going in one direction and landing on “deaf ears”. As adults, you don’t make grand announcements that you are about to speak or ask people, other than your family, whether they are listening to you. And I’m guessing if you do, it’s because you suspect they aren’t. Why do we do that?

We rarely see adults sticking their fingers in ears when they don’t feel like listening. But that doesn’t mean they’re actually listening. We’ve become sophisticated with nods, grunting, use of random phrases to mask our lack of listening and/or interest. We’re constantly rushing around. We get distracted and half listen (which really means we’re not listening). We speak less and make choices by touching screens or swiping left and right. We can voice opinions whenever feel like it on social media. And nowadays we send texts and post pictures a lot more than actually talking to each other.

Did you know we send 561 billion text messages worldwide each day! That’s a lot of texts. That’s on average , per person, 32 messages every day 365 days of the year. And if you’re between 18 and 24 years old, that number quadruples to 128 messages a day.

Are we in danger of losing the art of conversation?

Conversations are like a game of catch. You say a few words and then pass the ball on before and then you get it back. A great conversation involves a healthy amount of listening from both sides — no hands in ears, airwaves traveling in both directions and equal air time..

How would you rate yourself at listening to others?

How well do you listen to those you like and those are you don’t?

How well are you listening to your customers?

How well are you listening to your colleagues?

How well are you listening to your family and friends?

How well are you listening to yourself and your body?

What are they telling you?

What’s your balance between listen and speaking? I’d hedge my bets on more speaking? Am I right or am I, right?

Imagine for a moment how much more you’d achieve if you decided to simply listen. Listen. Focussing on what’s being said rather than what you want to say. This is a real conversation…a great conversation.

Have you ever noticed that the people you find most interesting are most often the ones most interested in you?

My wish is that we start having great conversations this year and get interested in each other — at home, at work and maybe even with random people who cross our paths.

Top tips to having a great conversation

1) Listen. It’s as simple as that. You probably know someone who finishes your sentences and spurts off answers before you’ve asked something or possibly even at times it may have been you wanting to get a thought out before you forget. “If our mouths are open, we’re not listening” (Buddha) and Stephen Covey so eloquently commented “most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply”. Don’t be like the little girl, metaphorically, take your fingers out of your ears and when your fingers are out, listen.

2) Don’t multi-task. It’s impossible to give our undivided attention to more than one thing at the same time. Put your phone away, move away from your laptop, eliminate distractions and show that person you are listening. Stay in the moment with them. Actions speak louder than words. Start noticing what they’re not saying too. And if you really don’t have the time for the conversation, especially at work, don’t fake it. Be honest. If the issue isn’t time critical, ask them to come back at a specific time when you’ll be able to give your undivided attention. But remember — forgetting to follow-up might re-affirm a message that they don’t matter and you don’t care.

3) Get curious and interested in the other person and their experience. Ask open ended questions starting with what, when, how, where. These types of questions will draw out more interesting answers than the boring “yes, no’s and maybe’s” which can close down a conversation. Perhaps think: what can I learn about this other person. How might Ibe able to help you?”

4) Try not repeat yourself. I use the word “try” because you are human. Saying the same thing over and over and over again is boring, annoying and even a little condescending. If you are drawing blank stares, get the conversation back on the other person and draw them in, like a game of catch. Repeating the same fact or command rarely always translates into action.

5) Get to the point quickly — clearly, succinctly and honestly. Grab someone’s attention , they don’t need the gory (or delicious) details— this is where you’re likely to lose them. Remember if they are listening then they will be interested in you and it’s your job to keep them interested by being interested in them too. Keep your attention on the other person.

Could this be the year of great conversations and shifting our attention towards others?

It could be if you decide it should be.

Imagine how much more you’d learn. How will your family, colleagues, job and business will benefit if you had your listening ears on?

The good news is that you already have a pair of designer listening ears. They might need a little unplugging and wee more practice but you have all the ingredients to have a great conversation.

Use those listening ears more — what have you got to lose?