Try this listening exercise the next time you have nothing better to do.
Sit back-to-back with someone you know (if you don’t know them it could be weird) and engage in a role play. In the role play, one of you asks a hypothetical question like, “What did you think of the event?” The other person replies with a short response like, “I thought the event was great. I got a lot out of it!” Then the person that asked the question repeats the response word for word (“I thought the event was great. I got a lot out of it!”) and then gives feedback about the mindset or feeling of the person that shared that response. (“I think you liked the event and were even surprised by how much value you got out of it. You were enthusiastic, positive, and excited about attending the event.”) Then the person that responded to the question shares if the interpretation is correct or not.
Follow that? Then you switch roles and repeat the exercise.
The point you discover in the exercise is that we don’t spend enough time trying to understand the feeling behind the words people share with us every day. There is often true meaning that goes beyond the actual words. In fact, I’m not sure we even listen closely enough to the words.
Listening is such a complex skill set. In fact, top sales producers have told me over and over again that great listening skills led them to their success, not selling skills.
Listening is how they see their role. What role do you see yourself in?
And there are all kinds of roles we’re playing when we should be the role of the listener.
Ignoring what’s being said, selectively listening to only what you want to, listening to criticize, listening to judge, listening to enjoy (like music, the crashing of a wave, or silence), listening to empathize, listening to learn, and listening to completely understand concepts and feelings (active listening). There is no form of listening that’s bad or wrong per se although it certainly depends on the situation.
Think of how many times someone has introduced themselves to you and just moments later you’ve forgotten their name. By the way, you probably didn’t forget their name. You simply didn’t listen to it properly in the first place because your mind was more focused on what you were going to say next rather than on their name.
How does your listening differ when the teacher says, “This is what’s going to be on your exam!”? After listening to that, I imagine you would kick that listening muscle up a notch.
Yes, every situation is different. But when it comes to networking, making connections, selling, and building relationships, listening is important.
Here are four ways to be more effective at Active Listening.
When you’re speaking with someone and it’s your turn to listen, repeat back to them (when appropriate) what they said. You definitely shouldn’t “parrot” or repeat back word-for-word what’s being said but, as needed, paraphrase what you understood as having been said. “What I hear you saying is…” Or in the middle of what someone is saying you could say something like, “Right. So you were in the room. Then what?” Keep in mind that it’s less about repeating what is actually said and more about showing the other person that you’re truly listening and understanding what’s being said. Don’t worry, if you don’t understand something, by effectively restating, you’re allowing the other person to correct you.
In the role play I described above, remember the feedback part when the listener shares the feelings and mindset of the speaker? That’s what reflect is. When you’re having a conversation, you could reflect upon what it must have been like to have a five day weekend, buy the winning ticket, score the go ahead goal, or meet the love of your life. “It must have been absolutely breathtaking.” “I’ll bet you really needed the break.” “That must have been unbelievable!” Reflecting on the emotion, mindset, or reaction someone may have had shows that you’re engaged in the conversation and that you’re being present (or trying to be present) to the story or concept being shared.
When there is a lot of information being shared, or you’re speaking to someone for an extended period of time, summarizing the conversation is an excellent way to absorb the information or follow the story so you’re ready to listen to more. “It sounds like you went from the beach, up the mountain, through the woods, across the swamp, and ended up in the cave, first having to climb your way up the wall. Wow!” Again, you can be corrected if you didn’t get it right, get affirmation if you did, and show that you’re interested and engaged in the conversation.
If you’re not sure of something, just ask. Asking questions is the best way to clarify and to learn. It’s also a nice way to remain a part of the conversation and bring the topic into another direction (or to change topics completely). Of course, how and when you ask questions depends on the type and purpose of the conversation. For example, if you’re listening to a speaker, it might be best to ask your questions toward the end of the presentation. In another situation, it might be better and more appropriate to ask questions throughout a conversation so you can better follow and understand the discussion. Just make sure they’re good questions and you’re not asking questions just for the sake of asking them. Otherwise, it might be misinterpreted.
There’s a lot of work to this listening thing. But when a situation arises where you truly need to follow a conversation or don’t yet have a great connection with someone you’ve just met, these approaches can feel forced. It requires practice and must be genuine.
Naturally, if you’re speaking with someone you know well, have a great relationship with, have a vested interest in, or happens to be in distress in some way, you might find that you Restate, Reflect, Summarize, and Ask Questions automatically. And that’s true.
But think of the times you don’t. Which is more often than you might realize.
It’s no wonder over 85% of the information we receive is ignored, misunderstood, or completely forgotten.
Just remember that!