Bryant McGill tells us “one of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”  In our current high-tech world, we have several ways to communicate that eliminate listening.  Our world devotes less time to listening than any generation that has come before us.  Genuine listening is a skill and an amazingly powerful communication tool.

I was sitting around a conference table last week with about twelve other people.  In the middle of our conversation, I made a couple of different comments.  Later in the discussion, two separate people said things I had already said as if it was new revelation.  My immediate thought was, “Is anyone here listening?”  It was frustrating to not be heard and feel no connection.

By improving our listening skills, we can make the speaker feel heard and understood, as well as build strong connection with each other.  When everyone feels heard, they are able to express ideas, opinions, and feelings.  This allows creativity to soar and fresh ideas to bubble to the surface. When we feel truly heard, it keeps the conversation calm and opens up the capacity for problem solving.  Listening is an underutilized tool.

Focusing fully on the speaker.  Pay attention to the words being spoken and also the body language, non-verbal cues like facial expressions and muscle tightness or restless fidgeting.  When our eyes are elsewhere, like on our phones, we can miss some important clues to what is being said. Not only do our eyes wander but also our mind.  We begin to formulate what we want to say next, rather than listen to what is being said now.  The best way to stay focused is to repeat to the speaker in a brief overview sentence what was just said.  If we know we’re going to have to repeat what she’s saying, we will begin to repeat her words in our head which pushes out all the other activity in our brain.

The other beautiful thing about repeating to the speaker what she said to us in one focused phrase or sentence is it brings clarity.  A large part of the time what we hear is not exactly what she meant to say.  This early clarification saves a boat-load of misunderstanding in the long run.

Avoid interrupting.  Interrupting is so common in our society. While watching an interview of a great entrepreneur, I was startled by the interviewer continually interrupting his guest.  Every time, it felt like a slap in the face.  A host who invites you on his show to share your knowledge and then interrupts your answer to his questions is definitely not listening, not to mention, it’s disrespectful.

Humans speak 125 to 150 words a minute, while we comprehend 600 words a minute.  As we hear one or two phrases, we jump ahead in our minds to a solution or a personal story.  After all, we have a lot of extra space not being utilized in our brain at the moment.  Here is a hysterical suggestion: close mouth while listening. No really. We often open our mouth to signal that we have something to say.  Visualize a drop of glue on our lips and keep them shut. As we think of things we want to say, jot a note.  We can come back to it later once we have it written down.  Also, if we change our goal to listening more than we speak, that will curb our habit of interrupting.

The world is giving us answers every day, let’s learn to listen.


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