I have seen the experiment done over and over again in colleges and universities. In fact, in his book How to Win Friends & Influence Strangers, Dale Carnegie tells copious stories about effective communication by not speaking at all. Most of the stories have the same theme: the person who asks the questions maintains control of the conversation.
In short, here is his secret: Don’t speak. Do ask questions and actively listen.
People would rather speak about themselves than listen to you ramble on about your products or your own wonderful life. By active listening, you increase your influence and maintain the higher communication ground. You will also learn a lot more about your client and her business. You actively listen to the person to get the complete message.
The problem is that most of us are racing ahead of the conversation, formulating new questions or arguments. Or you wonder off for a few nanoseconds to Alpha-Centauri. We tend to lose the flow of the conversation and lose influence. It is not hard to “take a short vacation” when it comes to listening actively. Other things may be interfering with your listening process. The cat may need food; your child may be ill or running for class president. You may have had a bad experience earlier or expect a positive one later in the day.
The reality is simple; you cannot do two things at the same time. You can either listen to the speaker or formulate a question, but not both. The same holds true about taking notes.
Note taking is not frowned upon by instructors, but make it hard to hear the entire lecture. I suggest that if a question does come up or you have a thought, write down key words only.
The Wall Street Journal reminds us that “when the listener displayed more of the behaviors—making eye contact, paraphrasing, asking open-ended questions—the speaker perceived the listener as more emotionally aware, and [feels] better.”
Active listening takes a lot of work and requires lots of practice.
Here are some tips that may help you improve your listening skills.
- Listen for key words or phrases that summarize the ideas, thoughts and feelings of your speaker.
- Repeat or summarize the information you heard to verify that you got the message intended.
- Look for the non-verbals that either verify or negate what is being said.
- Check your own body language. Are you conveying the idea that you are listening? Are you nodding in agreement or are you closed off?
- Ask another question, usually an open-ended question, to get clarification.
- Do not interrupt the speaker; it is rude and a waste of time. Wait until they have finished their thought.
David is an award winning freelance editor, copywriter and speaker. InkandVoice Communication provides Business and Political Communication Editing, Copywriting, Consulting and Coaching. If you have any questions or would like a free consultation, please contact us at Dave@InkandVoice.com.