Are You a Great Listener?
by Kevin Eikenberry
I could start this article extolling the importance of listening in our everyday lives, in our ability to lead others, in our ability to improve relationships and communications in general. I could lament that while throughout our school experiences we were taught the communication skills of writing and speaking, but seldom was any time spent learning the skills of listening.
I could do those things, but I won't.
You've heard and said all of those things before. There is no value in me going over that litany again. Besides, if we had all bought into those arguments, we'd be walking around as better listeners. Sadly, for most of us, most of the time, this isn't true.
That chorus of comments assumes or implies that the heart of great listening is skills.
I don't agree.
Don't get me wrong, I believe the skills of great listening are important, I just don't think that is our problem. We know how to listen; we've exhibited the skills at some points I our lives. We just don't do it nearly often enough.
So, if it isn't skill that keeps us from consistent great listening, what is it? I believe there are three factors: Intention, Attention, and Effort. Let me explain.
When you begin communicating with someone your intention, conscious or subconscious, will directly impact how you listen. Consider this short list of possible intentions:
- You want to persuade the other person. - You want your point of view heard. - You want to get through this conversation as quickly as possible. - You want to build the relationship. - You want the person to like you (more). - You want to "set them straight". - You want to give them some feedback or coaching. I could expand this list, but this is enough to make my point. Your intention at the beginning of the conversation will have an impact on how completely and carefully you listen during the conversation.
Want to be a better listener instantly? Set your intention on the other person instead of yourself. Intend to understand their message. Or, to be more blunt:
Stop being so selfish.
Great listening is an act of caring, of service and, yes, of love.
Make the conversation about the other person; desire to understand their perspective, ideas and thoughts. With this intention your mental mandate is no longer muddy and you will listen more effectively.
In every communication encounter we make a choice -- subconsciously or consciously. The choice is whether or not we are going to pay attention. This is separate from our intention; however, they are closely linked. The reason I separate them is that even if our intention isn't crystal clear, we can make a choice in the moment to pay attention.
However, when our intention is clearly focused on the other person, it is much easier to make this choice. In fact, the best way to make the attention choice a habit is to get our intention in our communications more clearly set.
There are two parts to our attention in a listening situation and they are both important -- attention to the person (which intention helps with significantly) and attention to the topic.
In short, get interested in both!
When you do you allow your listening skills to improve.
Listening is hard. We have to put our interests aside for the moment. We have to fight through our thoughts, unclear word choices, a million distractions.
It takes effort.
And it isn't a passive activity when done well -- it requires energy and engagement and thought. It isn't a fluke that great listening is often called active listening. Great listening is an active, participatory process.
To do it well, we must work at it.
It is really just this simple. If you want to improve your listening effectiveness, don't ignore the active listening skills of paraphrasing, making eye contact and more; just don't start there.
Start with your intention and purpose for listening, continue by resolving to place your full attention on the other person, and based on those two factors, make the effort.
We all know the fruits of listening more effectively are many. Intention, Attention and Effort will give you a roadmap for success.
Potential Pointer: Our ability to be a great listener isn't typically about skills. We already know how to do it. Rather, it is about intention, attention, and effort. These three factors are at the heart of great listening.
Kevin Eikenberry is a leadership expert and the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (http://KevinEikenberry.com), a learning consulting company. To receive a free Special Report on leadership that includes resources, ideas, and advice go to http://www.kevineikenberry.com/leadership.asp or call us at (317) 387-1424 or 888.LEARNER.