How many really good listeners do you know? Could you list, say, three? Some of the people I ask struggle to name a single one.
Nowadays, we have an excuse for not listening well. We have little time and our concentration has been destroyed by a million interruptions.
But in fact, humans have always been bad listeners. A little thing called our ‘ego’ gets in the way. We’re not really very interested in other people; only in ourselves. Which means that we’re not listening; we’re waiting to talk.
Listening isn’t just rare – it’s also important. It’s particularly important in the context of business, where so much depends on co-ordination. When were you last at a meeting where there was an atmosphere of rapt attention?
So who teaches it? It’s important, it’s rare… but have you ever been on a listening course?
There is an organisation which teaches it very well: Samaritans, the helpline for people in distress. Of course, their training is for volunteers and not for business people; and they’re focusing on a particular kind of listening.
The skills need a wider audience. So I’ve modified their approach for a business environment. Here’s a summary of how to take your listening to a powerful new level.
Firstly, here are three hints for getting into the right state for listening.
Secondly, here’s an adapted version of what Samaritans call the Listening Wheel. As the name implies, it’s a circle, and you may need to go round this more than once during a conversation.
This is relatively easy to practise in one-to-one conversations. The other party doesn’t even need to be aware that you’re practising anything; they’ll just sense that you’re a good listener.
It’s more difficult in meetings. You may want to make the need for better listening explicit and share these guidelines with your colleagues… On which note…
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