LISTEN: verb - to give one's attention to; to take notice of and act on what someone says; to make an effort to hear something; be alert and ready to hear. Synonyms: attend, attentiveness, concentrate, hark, hear, heed, mind, note, observe, pay attention, take notice.
SERVICE: noun the action of helping or doing work for someone; an act of assistance. Synonyms: attendance, attentiveness, aid, assistance, help, ministration, value, cooperation, give attention to, support. - Oxford Dictionary
Notice how similar the synonyms are between listening and service? Listening equals good service: hearing, acknowledging and responding to our clients' and coworkers' needs, wishes and desires. We spend approximately 70% of our time in communication. Of that 70% - 45% percent is spent talking and 25% is spent listening. Most of us talk more than we listen. When we do 'listen' we are frequently distracted by 'mental clatter', thoughts that take us away from hearing the speaker. Most of us did not learn to be good listeners, but it is a skill easily acquired. Here are some techniques to help you develop your listening skills:
- Listen to a complete conversation without interrupting with your own comments. Note any questions you have and wait to ask them. Notice whether they are answered in the course of the conversation. Realize that you will get your chance to speak and, remember that listening will make your comments more pertinent and intelligent. Remember: the less you speak, the more carefully people will listen.
- Breathe and relax when you are listening. In the United States, most people will signal that they are finished speaking with a definite, downward inflection of their voice (unless they are asking a question). Do not be afraid to pause, take a breath, and wait to see if the person has finished speaking before you respond.
- Practice engaging in a conversation where you do not use the words 'I' or 'me'. Change your 'I' or 'me' statement into a question that asks the person about their opinion or experience, rather than stating your own.
- Listen with your full body by practicing 'physical mirroring': notice the person's energy, rhythm and physical posture. Adopt a similar rhythm or physicality. For example, if the person is energized and talking fast, try to slightly match their energy keep your rhythm upbeat and mirror their energy and gestures. If they are very calm, quiet and still, mirror that energy. Note: Mirroring does not mean exact imitation. It is subtle matching of energy, posture and gestures.
- Shut off mental clatter. Each time you catch yourself mentally 'checking out', force yourself to focus on the speaker and observe something new about him or her. What new piece of information did they just give you? What are they doing with their body? Their hands? Their eye contact? If you find yourself frequently distracted by your 'To Do' list, get in the habit of making lists. Carry a small tape recorder so that you can place your mental clatter (to do lists, things to remember, etc.) on the tape. Remind yourself that the 'To Do' list is there for you to return to when you are ready. This will free you to engage in the present moment conversation. Practice activities that increase concentration. Spend 3 minutes a day simply listening: close your eyes and listen to every sound you hear around you. Listen to a round table discussion with several participants on a news program and see if you can accurately summarize each person's opinion and argument. Read a difficult piece of text aloud 15 minutes a day while you have the television or stereo on, then summarize what you just read.
- Avoid 'auto pilot' listening. Ask open-ended, thought-provoking questions that invite specific, detailed information from the speaker. Avoid questions requiring simply a 'yes' or 'no' answer.
Examples of questions in 'auto pilot' listening:
Does this fit/not fit with what I already know?
Do I agree/disagree?
Do I like it/not like it?
Do I believe it/not believe it?
Is this right/wrong?
Does this make sense/not make sense to me?
Is this good or bad?
Examples of questions in active listening:
What would that allow for?
What do you hope to have happen?
What can we build with that?
What is the possibility?
What could this provide?
What do you need from this meeting?
What do you need from me?
Tell me more about.......?
Tell me what you like best about that?
What characteristics would you like to see in....?
Tell me what you would like instead.
Acknowledging and listening for a person's values and needs will provide you with significant options for presenting information, solutions, ideas and products. When in doubt, listen.