Listen to the audio version of this post here.
I stopped scrolling when this appeared in my Twitter feed: “The secret to getting someone to listen to reason is not what you tell them. It’s what you enable them to tell you that calms them down.”
Not that this Tweet from the author Mark Goulston is really surprising. You’ve heard me advocate for better listening many times.
What made me think, reading his Tweet, was how often we make the mistake of believing that if we just marshal our arguments, if we point out the facts, if we’re persuasive enough…they’ll come around to our way of thinking.
That’s kind of crazy, isn’t it?
I’ve been reading lately about families worried sick because someone in the clan has fallen down the QAnon rabbit hole.
Skirmishes over politics are common; some of us have even ended relationships because we couldn’t see eye-to-eye on elections, procedures, or policies.
And then there are the COVID controversies. Masks or no masks? Get vaccinated or don’t? Are we keeping kids safe or ruining their futures with this online learning?
Add to all that the individual or personal issues that pop up between friends, colleagues, and even total strangers. Discussions turn into debates turn into arguments at the drop of a hat.
The impulse in a disagreement is to unload on the opposition. Drown them in data. Wow them with our brilliant position and all the supporting information we can muster.
If they only knew everything we know, they’d see it the way we do, right?
Here’s the problem. When we lay out the many reasons we are absolutely right about this … what they hear is all the reasons they’re wrong.
That triggers a response, and it may not to be a well-reasoned, intellectual response.
Better for us to stop talking and start listening. When they feel heard, even valued, things calm down and real communication can begin.
So here are seven suggestions for better listening.
1. Set an intention to listen. It won’t happen by accident and there are a ton of barriers that can get in the way. Environmental ones like noise in the room or a bad phone connection. Emotional barriers like boredom or distraction or even not really liking the person I’m supposed to hear.
2. Give up the idea that you can multitask. The brain science says we don’t really focus on two things at once, we flip back and forth between them. And they both suffer as a result.
We all know driving is impaired by talking on the phone. Guess what? Conversation is impaired by driving. Research at the University of Illinois found when people chat and drive at the same time, they lose comprehension and retention of what they’ve heard.
3. This may sound obvious, but if you want to listen, you’ll need to stop talking. Yes, I know, duh. But don’t you know someone who never seems to zip it?
It’s easy to talk too much. We’re enthusiastic about our work, about our products, about what we can do for our clients. It’s easy to just run off at the mouth. So, if I want to be a better listener, I need more economy in the way I express myself. Still with enthusiasm. But not so many words.
4. It helps, if you want to be a better listener, to face the person full-on. And think about listening with your entire body. Yes, our ears do the hearing. But imagine yourself listening with the whole of you. As if you’re a satellite dish receiving the signal. It’s much more powerful.
And looking at the person helps. Watching their physical cues as well as listening to their words.
5. You might sort of mentally restate what the person just said, silently, in your own head. Because most people say … what?… 150 words a minute, give or take. But we could listen to three times that much.
So, there’s extra brain power there. And that can lead to the brain wandering off in any number of other directions. It helps, when the person is pausing, gathering their thoughts, to just restate what they said. It’s a way to stay focused on the conversation.
6. Make it a point to listen all the way to the end of the person’s sentence. Even when you’re very sure you know exactly what they’re going to say.
It can be so tempting, because we’re in a hurry, because we want to move on already, or maybe because we want to talk ourselves…to finish their sentence for them. Or to just cut them off and start talking before they’ve finished their thought.
7. And after you’ve listened all the way to the end of their sentence, pause for a beat before you jump in.
That space is so welcome. And it can be a valuable information-gathering tool. Most people aren’t that comfortable with silence. So if they pause, and you don’t jump in to fill the gap, they may very well fill it themselves with information you wouldn’t even have known to ask for. You can learn a lot about people with that pause.
When you’re in the part of a sales conversation that many experts call “probing” (I hate that!) that extra bit of intel can make the difference between coming up with a proposal that gets you the business and one that falls flat.
There’s a lot of talk these days about polarization and anger and division. We could go a long way toward addressing that by really, intentionally, listening to one another.
I’m all in for listening to you.
Post a comment below and let me know what’s on your mind.
Catherine – I am long overdue in thanking you for all of your insight that you generously share through emails and posts. While my comments have been absent, I really appreciate your perspective and ideas. I hope to send some people your way that can greatly benefit from your coaching in the very near future.
You’re a peach, David! I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying my newsletters. And by all means, make those introductions for coaching or speaking gigs — the world needs people who speak with more power and pizzazz. Thanks for reaching out — don’t be a stranger …