According to WSJ article "Tuning In: Improving Your Listening Skills," even before digital technology came into existence, people retained less than 10% of what was said in a conversation after a distraction. Today with all kinds of interruptions, multitasking and distractions, it has gotten even more difficult to retain much information. According to research, our attention span is now only eight seconds, which is less than an attention span of a goldfish.
In the blog "Make it Easier to Listen." I wrote about what you can do when you are talking so you can help others listen to you a little better. You have to make it easier for people's brain to receive, process and analyze the information you are communicating. An effective way to do this is to convey your message using the 8-30-180 method. This takes care of the problem when you are doing the talking, but what about when you are on the receiving end of a conversation and the other person is not using this method? What do you do then?
1) "Full Monty" listening
2) Two Second Silence
4) Think Baseball, Not Football
5) Summarize The Message
6) Ask For Elaboration
7) Prepare To Listen
8) Avoid The Clash
9) Remove A Skill
10) Listen As If You Are Wrong
"Full Monty" listening
When you are listening, you want to listen with your eyes, ears, gestures and body. Eyes will show that you are very attentive. Ears will help you focus on the intonation, word usage, tempo, pitch and vocal variety. Gestures will show the other person how well are receiving the message, and the body will show how receptive you are to the message being conveyed.
This is something that is quite easy but difficult to do since we all like to talk more than listen; however, if you can learn to wait just two seconds before speaking, you will get a lot more information than if you try to say something. Sally Krawcheck, former Wall Street executive and owner of 85 Broads, used this effectively when she was working on Wall Street for some of the major financial institutions. Krawcheck is quoted in the book "Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success" by Sylvia Ann Hewlett that "There is nothing so powerful as silence to make people sit up in their seats. It’s loud. It’s unexpected. It’s dramatic. And it’s confident." This even applies to comedy. In the movie "Man on the Moon" about Andy Kaufman, the famous comedian in the 1970s, starring Jim Carrey. In one scene, Andy asks a wise man if there is a secret to being funny. The answer? “Silence.”
This is a way to let the speaker know you are listening and are attentive. This might seem trivial but how often have you been frustrated when you don't get any kind of cues from the listener. For example:
Speaker A: In order to communicate well, you have to tell a good story.
Speaker B: Good story?
The purpose of echoing is to show that you are paying attention and also draw the speaker out more into giving you more information, You are helping them help you know what they want you to understand.
Think Baseball, Not Football
Another reason people often don't listen well is that they feel that they act like they have only two minutes left in a football game and are trailing. They feel that unless they score, they will lose the opportunity to win you over. This way of communicating often results in miscommunication. You have to play the communication game like you are playing baseball and not worry if the communication game goes into extra innings. Don't let time be ever be a constraint. Add more time to the clock or go into extra innings. The one thing about listening is that you must have patience. You must control the time since you don't control the message.
Another thing to do when you are in a listen mode is to summarize what the speaker just said. You want to make sure that you both have a common understanding before you go deeper into the conversation and you ask any questions You don't want to ask questions if you are not clear on the message since it will indicate that you were not paying attention. Male an attempt to help the other person explain things better by active listening.
Ask For Elaboration
You do not want to say anything that takes the person out of his flow of talking, but it is quite appropriate to ask questions that can help you see things in multiple ways. You have to act like you are not that familiar. The burden is always on the speaker to get th message across. When someone is talking, you want to listen like your current understanding of the matter could be wrong. Ask the other person to convince you why you are wrong without ever telling him that. You want to communicate through smart listening rather than nonsense talking.
Prepare To Listen
We seem to prepare when we are talking but don't prepare to listen. You need to write down list of questions you want to ask and write down the answers the speaker gives so you can later validate it with the speaker. You have to act like a journalist and not a debater. Note, you are not there to judge but to better understand to make an informed decision later.
Avoid The Clash
We all think we can easily move from talking and listening interchangeably. In reality, we are not. We have to talk like we are right and listen like we are wrong. This means that when we are talking our job is to make the other person understand or talk to them to help you help them understand. In contrast, when you are listening, it is your job to help the speaker help you understand what he is communicating. This means if you are both trying to make each understand your point, there is going to be a clash and both will fail in creating a common understanding. You have to be a speaker or a listener in enabling understanding. When you try to be both, that's when the conversation fails. I wrote about this in "Be a 100% Conversationalist."
Remove A Skill
This is something I picked up from listening one of James Altucher's podcast ("Be Better At Everything"). This technique requires practice so start with your immediate family. Let's say you know a lot about football, but in order to have a decent conversation with a family member, remove this knowledge for a short time. If you take it out of the conversation you will have to be in a complete listen mode and will not interrupt and tick the person off.
Listen As If You Are Wrong
"Argue as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong."
- Karl Weick, Pysycholgist from University of Michigan
When you are talking then you have to have a point of view that you want to push; however, when you are listening you have to listen as if you could be wrong. Most of us don't like being wrong since we are so wedded to our ideas. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to communicate.
Communication is not just getting your message across, but also understanding what the other person is saying and thinking. If you don't listen well, then you are likely to waste a lot of time, energy and money. Start building your wealth by being an effective communicator.