By Marlene Chism, consultant, executive educator, professional speaker and the author of Stop Workplace Drama, and No-Drama Leadership.
One of the most important communication skills you will ever learn is the art of effective listening. This skill alone has the power to transform any relationship. In your professional life, listening is at the heart of effective leadership, and in your personal life, listening is an act of love. Below I’ve share five signs that indicate you aren’t listening, the drama those behaviors cause, and what you should do instead.
The Problem: When someone is talking to you and you are multi-tasking, you slip in and out of the conversation. You only catch pieces and bits of the conversation. You pretend to listen, and if the person talking to you needs your attention, you have just missed the nuances and inflections that help you offer valuable feedback or support.
The Solution: When someone is boring you or wasting your time with chatter, it’s easy to slip into activity to maximize your use of time; however, it’s better to simply end the conversation than to pretend to listen. Say something like: “Janet, unfortunately, I only have two more minutes to talk. I have a stack of things on my to-do list and it seems that the time is slipping away.” Then at the end of two minutes, politely say “Goodbye” and get back to work.
However, when a friend or colleague really needs your attention but you don’t have time, tell the person that you need to schedule a time when you can give your full attention. Either way, you have remained authentic and present.
The problem: When people are talking and you are so excited that you jump in and offer your two cents, it rarely ends well. The problem is, those people likely don’t care about your input yet. They want to finish what they are saying, so your comments likely won’t register with them anyway. Instead, they will think you are rude and even if they do let you interject, they won’t listen to you because they are frustrated.
The solution: Especially if you are a “fast processor” it’s difficult to stay quiet when someone takes a long time searching for the right word and fills their message with “ums, “ahs” and long pauses. You must, so try this: Put your tongue on the top of your mouth and breathe. If you are sitting at a desk or table, (or on the phone), you might want to jot down a thought so you don’t forget what you were going to say. Another solution is to apologize immediately and invite them to finish their last sentence.
Giving advice too soon
The problem: Have you ever tried to help someone with a piece of advice only to have it blow up in your face? When someone complains, it’s normal to go straight to a solution; however, most people do not really want advice, especially when they are in the midst of deep emotion. In the beginning, it is never really about the solution. It is about calming down the emotional energy so that a solution can be found.
The solution: Validate and acknowledge. That does not mean that you agree with what is being said. Listen for the emotion and then ask a question that indicates you are trying to understand where they are coming from. For example, if a coworker is furious, instead of saying, “If I were you I would …” say “It sounds like you are really angry and you are tired of the way things are going …” Then let them agree or clarify.
If they are angry with you, do not defend yourself. Seek to understand their viewpoint before you try to find a solution. You will notice that once other people reclaim their composure they will be more likely to discuss solutions.
The problem: Someone comes to you with a little molehill of a problem, but they act like it’s a mountain. You are likely to make the molehill bigger if you say, “Oh, don’t worry about it, “or “It’s really not a big deal.”
The solution: Say: “I want to understand more. Can you tell me about …” Then encourage the person to provide the facts instead of just their feelings. Once you have the facts, put the situation into perspective or offer a solution to calm the person down.
Monopolizing the conversation
The problem: You don’t even know you are doing it. You talk fast and you talk a lot. Talking is how you work things out and how you sort out all your creative ideas. You know so much about the topic that you can’t understand why it isn’t as interesting to everyone else. That is the very worst listening mistake if you are a leader; others will feel drained by your hyper activity and massive energy.
The solution: Pay attention to how much you talk and how much you listen. The old saying is true, “When I talk I know what I know, but when I listen, I know what I know and I know what you know.” Another solution is to always let the other person talk first.
If you start talking first, it’s too easy to get carried away, especially if the other person is an excellent listener. Make sure to draw others in with questions and your own natural curiosity. Avoid the tendency to add one more comment or observation to everything other people say.
Marlene Chism is a dynamic business and motivational speaker and communications consultant. Her consulting firm helps to increase leadership effectiveness and dramatically improve business results, using a variety of methods, including executive coaching, leadership retreats, personal development, executive education and employee training. Visit her website to learn all about new learning and development opportunities, to read her blog and to access free resources to help you do your job.
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