The Gift of Listening
If you want to make progress with people, you have to offer them a gift – the gift of a listening ear. One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is Seek First to Understand, then be Understood. The only way to understand others is to listen to them. So shut up. Zip up your bone box.
In 1886 a young socialite had the honor of dining in the same week with both William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. Both statesmen were running against each other for the post of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The press asked her of her impressions that the rivals had made on her. She replied, “After dining with Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest person in England. But after dining with Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest person in England.” ¹ Mr. Disraeli had the gift of making you feel as you were the most important person in world. As a result, the young lady felt affirmed and of value.
There are some ways to NOT listen. Do not “listen” and simultaneously be thinking about how you are going to respond. That is not listening. This is the same as shutting them out. When listening, don’t be looking around the room or area. Instead, give them eye contact, with a genuine soft smile. Have an open look to your eyes, don’t stare them down with intimidation. Don’t interrupt. Again, that’s the same as planning your words, only you could care less about what they are really saying. Also, pause three seconds before saying anything when it is your turn to respond. It will seem like an eternity, but it will show that you are processing your partner’s ideas.
A benefit of actually listening? You might actually learn something about your conversation partner. What if by listening you gained some insight on this individuals needs? As a sales professional, this could be valuable information. What if by listening you learned something about their point of view or position? As a negotiator, you might find a true win-win solution. What if by listening you discerned the persons fears or pain that has been affecting their behavior? As a family member you might learn how you could show them love with actions, not just words, (although words are necessary, too.) What if by listening you were told what their biggest problems or concerns were? As a public office holder you might learn a practical way of serving your constituents. If you are constantly talking, you are not in a position to serve and love those you are trying to connect with.
When you actually listen, the other party will feel respected. They will discern authenticity and genuineness. You will be building trust. If you respond with authenticity, you will show that you have the other individual’s best interests at heart. You will be seen and heard as being trustworthy. You will be able to position yourself to show love, respect and trust. And your opportunity to influence them will have grown considerably.
Real listening can’t be faked. You are either listening or you are elsewhere. You have to be present. As mentioned in the title, listening is a gift, and like a present, you have to be present in order to give it.
1. Olivia Fox Cabane, The Charisma Myth (Portfolio/Penguin/2012)