The power of listening

The power of listening

On Monday I talked about why agencies need to be better listeners. It seemed to spark some interest in readers and I found myself critiquing my own listening skills all week. Guess what? I think I’m pretty poor at it too and it’s something I’m going to work on – I still interrupt people too much. (Especially after a bunch of coffee. )

We get so much inbound information from social media, email, regular media, etc that I think we’ve lost some of our ability to listen. (According to audiologists, we’ve also lost a lot of our hearing from MP3 players and concerts too) I found this great outline of “how to listen” from a rather obscure but well written blog by Michael Hanson. Michael, if you’re reading this thanks! 

Listening – by Michael Hanson

Listening is a critical part of communication, yet it is often neglected.  Do you sometimes find yourself forming a response before the speaker has finished?  If so, you are not alone.  Listening is not as skill in which most of us have been trained.  Good listening can be improved with practice.  How do we improve our listening skills?  The old saying goes; “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is excellent advice for listeners because it places the focus of attention where it belongs – on the speaker.  When we listen, we must put aside our personal opinions about what the person is saying and listen to the words.  Too often, we assume we know what the speaker has to say and we start arguing before hearing the entire message.  This is true especially if we expect the speaker to disagree with some of our ideas.

As you practice listening, you become aware how difficult prolonged listening can be.  Most of us are so use to TV or radio noise that we can “tune out” quite easily.  While most of this background noise is worth tuning out, it is not a good idea to tune out a face-to-face conversation.  We do, however, because the mind can process more words per minute than most people can speak.  This gives us time to form responses or even let our minds wander a bit.  Many of us have this experience during meetings, lectures and even chats with family members.  Her are some practical rules for listening effectively:

  • Focus on the speaker. Make eye contact so nothing distracts your attention.  Do not continue any other activities while the speaker is talking.  Such distractions imply that you do not consider the message or the speaker very important.
  • Hear the entire message before you begin to form your response
  • Rephrase what you think the speaker said and ask if your understanding is correct. If the speaker says no, ask him or her to repeat what was said.  Continue until the speaker says you have understood correctly what was meant.
  • Observe the nonverbal signals that will give you more information.  Notice how the person is standing or sitting.  Listen to the tone of voice. Determine if the speaker is relaxed, tense, excited, sad, frustrated.  You can listen to their “body” language.

Practice good listening with everyone and you will be amazed at how much this will improve your personal and working relationships.

26 Comments
  • James Ranch -- Farm Signs
    Posted at 16:10h, 26 May Reply

    It is interesting to point out that interrupting is rude. I’ve never considered this rude, because I’ve always felt that if you are interrupting and going back and forth you’re tuned in and paying attention to the conversation. Obviously there are times that this isn’t the case, but for the situations I’m in it tends to hold mostly true.

    Listening online is different in some ways. I think listening online is more about acknowledging that the person exists, and treating them as valid member of the community.

    • bonnie
      Posted at 17:41h, 26 May Reply

      I was always taught that interrupting was not polite, but I think it depends on the style of the person you’re having the conversation with too.

  • Michael Girard
    Posted at 13:39h, 26 May Reply

    Good idea for a blog post. Information overload happens so fast and it can be an overwhelming experience.

    I read an interesting book recently called the Zen of Social Media Marketing. It had some very good suggestions on how individuals looking to create their own personal or small business online brand can take some of the stress that social media brings.

    One of those suggestions, which I thought was pretty good, was learning how to listen to the conversations going on around you. Listen to really hear what is being said before engaging the community. Successful engaging flows from successful listening.

    Thanks for sharing this imporant lesson!

    Michael Girard
    Community Engagement, Radian6

    • bonnie
      Posted at 13:44h, 26 May Reply

      Thanks for stopping by the Wax blog, Michael. I’m going to get that book, sounds like a great read!

  • Hulbert Lee
    Posted at 18:56h, 26 May Reply

    Hi Bonnie, thanks for the article on listening, and sharing a well-written post by Michael Hanson. I never really thought about this idea in too much depth. I guess that is because my good friend and I interrupt each other all the time without consciously knowing so. Although I agree with all of Michael’s tips, I think the extent of listening also depends on how well you know the person you’re talking to. Nevertheless, his advice is useful for helping people fully comprehend what the speaker is saying before responding.

  • Chilli Sauce
    Posted at 10:26h, 27 May Reply

    I laughed when you said about interrupting people after a few cups of coffee because I too think i am guilty of that.

    I really think you made a good point about the amount of 1 way media we enjoy now being an issue for us to truly listen. 100 years ago, there was no tv, internet, mobile communication and so face to face, eye to eye communication was essential.

    I think there many people who do not really ever self refelect or want to improve themselves which is why I think this article maybe a bit lost on some people.

    But for me this was a great read – so thanks for the share 🙂 I will start working on my listening skills I think.

    • bonnie
      Posted at 10:28h, 27 May Reply

      What..did you just say something?? 🙂 I am totally working on listening too. Check back in and tell me how you’re doing!

  • UK Debt
    Posted at 06:24h, 27 May Reply

    excellent post, i think that listening skills are a dying ability which many people think they are too busy to learn.

  • Rufus Dogg
    Posted at 07:37h, 27 May Reply

    I think if you interrupt, you are hearing the voice in your own head louder than you are hearing the person speaking. That is just bad etiquette and can be trained out.. it is really, really hard to do when you condition yourself on Twitter, Facebook or blogs where the only voice you hear — really, really hear — is the one attached to your own brain.

    This is an interesting parenting trick I wish I learned early enough to teach my kids, but maybe not too late for some. http://www.margieclayman.com/rules-of-engagement#comment-4124

  • bonnie
    Posted at 08:50h, 27 May Reply

    I think it’s interesting that interrupting seems to be okay on national TV as well.

  • Jason from vga cables
    Posted at 22:22h, 27 May Reply

    First, I would not agree that it’s the Internet (or any other modern comforts) that is to blame if you can’t listen. It’s each person’s responsibility and 100 years ago there were as many bad listeners as today.
    I’m a teacher so good listening skills are crucial to my profession and I generally prefer to listen rather than talk, but having said that I still have to admit that sometimes I break my own rules and find myself interfering into the middle of somebody’s story.

  • Bowen Agency
    Posted at 09:05h, 29 May Reply

    People should know that there is a huge difference between listening and hearing. You may hear all the concerns of your customers but are you sure that you are listening to them? I think the key is understanding. 🙂 Great post here!

    • bonnie
      Posted at 09:08h, 29 May Reply

      Great point Ann!

  • Derra Huxley
    Posted at 19:49h, 29 May Reply

    I am sure that I am not the only one who has heard the expression that we were given two ears and only one mouth to remind us to listen twice as much as we speak. Listening is a powerful skill indeed and tends to lead to well-spoken words. I appreciated the wisdom of this article very much.

    • bonnie
      Posted at 20:02h, 29 May Reply

      I love that saying too – thx for stopping by – B.

  • Izrada Sajtova
    Posted at 04:39h, 30 May Reply

    The website is excellent, I visit it regularly and always has interesting information. Viewed and very well-organized.

  • Vancouver SEO Services
    Posted at 02:39h, 30 May Reply

    You are right Bowen, understanding is the key to all of this.

  • FinallyFast
    Posted at 19:50h, 30 May Reply

    Excellent overall point. I agree that listening is often neglected. I think a lot of people who have been in positions of power for a long time settle into routines and close themselves off from new ideas coming from outside; especially when they come from younger, less experienced people. But we need to embrace new ideas and listening is the key!

    Finally Freddy

  • Michael
    Posted at 23:27h, 30 May Reply

    There Is one great way to develop some good social skill it is maybe not related with the topic here but its really wort to recomend. Im talking about the basics of NLP and the best way to learn such basic skills is to read one of the Richard Bandler books there are really great and they will help you to understand the person that you are listening.

  • iPad Apps
    Posted at 04:49h, 31 May Reply

    Nice compliation.This is an informative article that i’d like to bookmark.

  • Cash For Computers
    Posted at 11:41h, 03 June Reply

    Listening is one basic yet very important skill that we must all possess. Good listening skills could result to great things, otherwise – great fights (kiddin’) Haha. But seriously, I just want to add, one lesson I learned so early in life is that listening is is divided in two parts. Listening to what people are saying being the first, and listening to why they are saying it as the second.

    • bonnie
      Posted at 14:59h, 03 June Reply

      Great comment, I hadn’t thought about “why” they’re saying something as part of listening!

  • Roz Bennetts
    Posted at 13:00h, 04 June Reply

    Often an overlooked area and so, so difficult to acquire. I stuggle with listening myself and find myself thinking about other things while someone is saying something and always mentally rap myself over the knuckles when I do. I tried to get to the bottom of why this happened and came up with the only answer that worked for me which was lack of interest – in other words it happens when I get bored much more often than say when I’m worried about something (though sometimes then). When I find myself doing it that is often enough to bring my focus back in on the other person. This is what works for me, plus your advice is good too.

  • Mystery Shopping Guy
    Posted at 09:31h, 07 June Reply

    Listening is crucial, not just for individuals, but businesses as well. With the effectiveness of word-of-mouth marketing and lightning-fast communication of social media tools, it’s critical to listen to your customers instead of sticking so close to your boardroom blueprints. Mystery shopping is a great way to gauge your company’s execution. Utilization of mystery shopping is essentially listening/taking a snap shot of your company in action. Business owners should give a shot.

    But at the end of the day, like the author says, listening is an extremely powerful tool and we should all practice it.

  • top ten credit cards
    Posted at 19:03h, 13 June Reply

    The feeling of being heard is amazing. Unfortunately, it’s so rare. Most of the time people aren’t really listening. They are thinking about themselves and what they’re going to say next, what they think about the other person… It’s hearing, not listening. It brings disconnection. We need to stay present and open to truly listen to a person and give him the amazing feeling of being heard.

  • vancouver seo services
    Posted at 00:57h, 10 March Reply

    I hardly leave a response, however I read a few of the
    comments on this page The power of listening | Wax Blog. I actually do have a couple of questions for you if it’s okay. Could it be only me or does it appear like a few of the responses come across like they are left by brain dead visitors? 😛 And, if you are writing at additional sites, I would like to follow you. Would you make a list of all of your public sites like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

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