Empty vessels make the most noise…
Communication is a two-way thing, yet many want to speak more than they hear. And whilst listening effectively is a crucial element, so few get it right. Even though two ears and one mouth implies we ought to take in more information than we give out, most of us don’t.
Sadly recently, I was watching an old lady and her daughter out drinking coffee, I saw the old lady talking and desperately seeking her daughter’s eye, although the younger woman was engrossed with her phone.
Occasionally she’d murmur “yeah” and “really?” Finally, the old lady stopped talking and disconsolately sipped her drink. The daughter eventually noticed. “You’ve stopped talking”, she said. “Well, dear, you weren’t listening” came the reply. And despite her protestations, the daughter was only hearing, not listening. There’s a difference.
Hearing is ‘the faculty of perceiving sounds’. It’s about monitoring background noise until something grabs your attention. Altogether different to listening. Listening is paying attention – intensely concentrating on the information being imparted.
Our view is that there are four types of listener:
Those who actually just don’t; and often aren’t even aware of others trying to contribute. They hear only their own voice, disregarding the views of others. They’re rude…
Those who hear and don’t listen; like our aforementioned daughter, missing the intent of the message. Without good interpretation, responses become meaningless and possibly dangerous. Many find they have agreed to something unpleasant or unacceptable by agreeing to what has been ‘heard’?
Those who simply listen; who pay attention only to the extent of listening to reply, or rebuff the words they’ve heard. We’ve seen people violently agreeing to something and if they’d actively listened, they’d have understood more and sooner, meaning more time saved and a deeper understanding.
Finally, those who ‘actively listen’; with complete attention, understanding the meaning and emotion of words, assessing their value objectively and without prejudice. Only when they understand will they respond, having listened to understand the speaker. People feel valued and trusting when others listen.
We have five tips to better listening:
Stop being distracted and concentrate. Closing your laptop or putting your phone away subliminally says you are prepared to listen. It actually takes less time, with less need for further explanation or putting mistakes right.
Show you’re listening and paraphrase. Remember that listening isn’t just words, which can be as low as 7% of the overall message. Watch their body language; look out for reactions to words and tones. There are many signs when you listening properly.
Refrain from responding immediately. Of course, you’ll want to respond, especially if you’re a leader or manager or have positional power. Yet the very act of thinking about responding takes your attention away. You’ll have the chance to respond and the time to think about your reactions – see below.
Ask questions to gain and show a need to understand the speaker. Restate what you heard and if you’re wrong, they’ll be pleased to avoid misunderstanding. If you’re right, they’ll be delighted you were paying attention. It makes people feel good.
Then, and only then, respond. Start with empathy. Reflection, empathy and understanding make others more likely to want to get involved. You’ve shown that you’ve listened. You’ll get their attention. You’ll lead the conversation.
Try it. Most people are nervous that they won’t get a word in edgeways. So many people want to have their say and will often – and some continually – interrupt. There’s no doubt it’s frustrating, but ultimately rewarding, as this approach gains attention and gives you a platform.
“Empty vessels make the most noise!”
For a demonstration of how we listen to clients, before working out their real issues are with them and to see active listening in action – simply ping over an email or call us on 08448 484853. We’ll be listening out for you which is more than the old lady got. And just what she wanted.
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About the Author
John Wade has worked in leadership positions in the professional and financial services sectors for over thirty years. His experience includes helping legal and professional service firms set and implement strategic and business plans; facilitating workshops and seminars; coaching and mentoring staff and Partners into better performance and through conflicts and team-building; managing projects and process improvements; and implementing compliance based regimes. He speaks and trains on leadership and management programmes – and also about his passion for photography and motorbikes, although not at the same time!