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Listening (III)

The fact that I am writing about listening again says something. It shows just how important I believe good listening is. Many ideas and views that are shared are either not understood or get lost in translation, however, more specifically they get lost when the recipient of a message applies their own interpretation of what they believe they have heard.

In my workshops I often ask participants to place themselves on the scale shown in the following graphic:

Allow me to take you through this exercise:

I always/often/sometimes/rarely/never believe I already know what the other person will say.

Granted, sometimes, we are correct in making the assumption that we know someone well enough, know their points of view, their experience, etc.. At the same time there is always the danger that by preempting what they may say you distract them, and they will not make the point they intend to. You “interpret” what they are going to say.

I always/often/sometimes/rarely/never listen to reply.

Our brains are busy, they make associations, they surface our own stories, and it takes conscious effort to focus solely on what we are hearing. The temptation to add our own experience to what the other person is saying is big. As an example: A colleague tells us that they have a really bad headache. Is it helpful for them to know that we had a bad headache yesterday? Rather, we need to display empathy and perhaps offer to help.

The first time I interviewed someone for a job, I know that I fell into this trap. The reply was the next question. While they were speaking my brain was busy thinking about the next “clever” question to ask and I am certain now that I missed important information.

I always/often/sometimes/rarely/never not allow sufficient time for the other person to speak.

Allowing sufficient time often requires making time in your busy schedule. Sometimes, people pause while they are telling their side of a story to formulate their next sentence. Do not see this as an invitation to start speaking. Rather wait for 10 seconds (at least!) before you start. 10 seconds can be a long time when there is silence. Learn to enjoy the silence – it shows your appreciation for the other person. While you wait for the other person to continue, do not be tempted to do something else, like checking the messages on your phone.

Tip: When you feel the temptation to interrupt or start talking, think of the acronym WAIT – which stands for “Why Am I Talking?” I had to learn this and became good at it. For a long time I had a little post-it next to my screen saying WAIT.

I always/often/sometimes/rarely/never multitask when listening to someone speak.

Many articles and blog posts have been written about the fact that no one can really multitask, i.e. fully focus on two things at the same time and yet some of us are still convinced that it is possible. Try this: Go for a walk outside while listening to a podcast, look around and focus on the different kinds of plants that are now growing and blossoming. You will notice without doubt that while your interest was captured by something else you missed out on what was spoken in your podcast.

It is much the same in conversations – those seconds during which you are doing something else will make you miss out on what the other person is saying to you.

Where do you place yourself on the scale from always to never? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts and what you have noticed in interactions with others. Please share them with me by sending me a note on

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