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Growing up as the last of 10 children in my family was fun and chaotic. We didn’t understand the value of listening to each other as children. In fact, we’d often talk over each other in order to tell our funny story, to share our love and support, and to reminisce about experiences of our past. Years later, we have learned to listen more and have gained some wisdom. As journalist Doug Larson points out, "Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd have preferred to talk."
As I’ve matured, I’ve learned more about the value of listening as a tool for success and understanding. According to businessman, Bernard Baruch "Most of the successful people I've known are the ones who do more listening than talking." That’s been my experience and observation as well. The more we listen, the more we understand. The more we understand, the greater the opportunity that we’ll learn something about another person that will reveal a way for us to provide them with something valuable that satisfies a need.
In training dozens of sales people and customer service representatives who have worked for my previous companies, I’ve shared tips about listening which have helped to make their jobs easier and allowed them to become more successful. Along with advice about listening, I’ve also cautioned them about a human tendency to formulate a reply before the other person is finished speaking. This is a common habit that many of us have developed over the years. Author and business man, Stephen R. Covey shares that "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." We’ve all experienced this. Think of the last time you spoke with an inexperienced sales person, telemarketer, or someone with a strong opinion about something. Perhaps they cut you off mid-sentence or they picked up their practiced and memorized script when you finished talking. It’s obvious that they didn’t listen to a word you shared about your needs, values or opinions. That never makes you feel good. It doesn’t make others feel heard and understood when we do the same to them.
To experience more value in future conversations, develop your listening skills and understanding by doing the following:
- After asking a question or requesting an opinion, become present and listen.
Being present means listening with all of your senses. Listen to their words, listen to their tone of voice and watch their mannerisms and body language. Get a clear understanding for their entire message. Stay present while they’re talking without formulating an answer. Wait until they are finished speaking before responding.
- Confirm your understanding of what they said.
Once the other person is finished talking, repeat to them what you heard them say. If your understanding isn’t accurate, the other person will correct you or clarify an important point. This is a very valuable clue in identifying what’s really important to the other person. This will help you to craft your response and the information that you share to be relevant to them.
- Offer your solution, convenience, or information that relates to the other person’s need.
Using the information that you received by listening, respond in a meaningful way that relates to the values that you uncovered. e.g. After identifying a problem you might say, “Thank you for sharing the point_______. I can see how that has been difficult. Would it be helpful to have a solution, convenience or technique for making that easier for you?” Or, if you’ve learned something wonderful, convey to the other person your appreciation for the information. e.g. “I wasn’t aware of ____ and I’m grateful that you’ve shared this with me. I’ll look for more information about that. Thank you.”
You can see how this kind of listening would help in business. But, what about when you’re talking about politics, religion, cultural identity, and other topics that people are passionate about? I would advise that you continue to follow all three steps above. And, when giving information that relates to the other person’s need (#3 above), offer your love and understanding. e.g. “I’m so grateful that you shared ______. I recognize how important that is to you and appreciate you taking the time to explain it to me.”
Giving someone your love and understanding does not mean that you have to believe what they believe. It’s OK to have your own beliefs. In ALL situations we can choose to be present and listen fully and then offer kind words of understanding to show appreciation and love for another person. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “I'm a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.” She is not advocating that we have to agree with everyone. She’s identifying the value in listening and understanding. The art of listening is a true path to learning, wisdom and success.
May you be blessed, prospered, happy, and healthy now and always. For more information about me and my work, please visit www.maymccarthy.com.