Listening 101

May 28, 2010 by  Filed under: Management 

How many times has someone said to you, “You’re not listening” or “You’re not a good listener” or “I don’t feel heard”? If you are one of those executives who is guilty of multi-tasking while talking to someone or who is more focused on what you are going to say next than on what is being said, then this article is for you. When people say you aren’t listening, they usually mean one of the following things:

1) I don’t believe that you heard me fully.
2) I don’t believe that what I said will make a difference in your behavior.
3) I don’t feel like I have your full attention.
4) When I make requests of you, you tend to ignore them or dismiss them.
5) I never know how you feel about what we are talking about.
6) I leave our conversations feeling like I’ve wasted my time.
7) I do not feel important to you.

If anyone feels that way about you, or if you feel that way about anyone who works for you or anyone in your personal life, then here are some suggestions for improving listening skills to practice and share with others:

1) Always be fully present for a conversation or don’t be there. If you can’t give someone your undivided attention, let them know and agree to talk when you can.
2) If someone is going on for too long and you are beginning to tune out, let them know that you can’t devote additional time to this conversation at this time and schedule a time to continue it. Don’t just tune out!
3) Seek first to understand and then to be understood. (This in one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). This means really listening to what is being said rather than focusing on what you plan to say next.
4) When you listen, practice 3rd level listening. Words only tell you 7% of the total communication. Tone of voice is 37% and body language is the remaining 56%. Listen for the feelings of the speaker and the values of the speaker. What are they telling you about themselves? Why are they having this conversation with you at this time? What do they want the outcome of this conversation to be?
5) Ask questions that deepen the conversation and force the speaker to think and reveal their reasons for why they feel/think the way they do?
6) Determine in advance if a decision needs to come out of this conversation and if so, the urgency of this decision. Do you have the liberty of taking some time to think about how you will respond or is an immediate response required?
7) Provide feedback to the person that you heard what they said and understand what they are asking or telling you. Use their language whenever possible to avoid misunderstanding.
8) Don’t say you will do something, unless you really plan to do it. It helps if you say by when you will do something if you make a commitment to do it. If you can’t make a commitment or don’t want to make a commitment to do something, say so and be direct vs. avoiding the issue and then not acting on the request.
9) Avoid interrupting or talking over people.
10) End the conversation by reiterating the key things you’ve heard, so the person you are talking with knows that you got the most important points of the communication.

Copyright © 2008 by Ken Estridge

Ken Estridge is an Executive Coach who works with senior executives in Fortune 500 companies and CEO’s of entrepreneurial companies to improve their leadership skills and effectiveness. Information on Ken’s work and his contact information can be found on Ken’s website:

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