Listening For Success

Jim Blasingame "YOU'RE NOT LISTENING TO ME!!!"

"What? I'm sorry. Did you say something?"

This exchange - somebody speaking to somebody not listening - happens all the time. Sometimes it happens exactly as you see it - out loud - and sometimes it happens silently. Either way, at a minimum, opportunity is lost, and at the maximum, damage is done.

Let's identify the possible parties in this little tete-a-tete:

First, the YOU'RE NOT LISTENING TO ME! Players:
• Spouses
• Children
• Business partners
• Employees
• Friends

Next, the NOT READY FOR SUCCESS Players:
• You
• Me

Oh? You protest that characterization? Fair enough. Perhaps that last title is a little rude. But I wanted to get your attention for what I'm going to say next. I believe that being able to listen may be the most important success factor in any personal or professional endeavor. And every time you and I miss a listening opportunity, we risk failure on some level.

So, if I'm right, why don't we spend more time working on our listening ability? Well, I think it's because, like so many things in our lives, we take listening for granted. We think that just because our ears work, that single anatomical fact automatically makes us good listeners. That, my friends, is a very unfortunate and limiting assumption.

Now I'll cut us some slack by saying I believe successful listening is not intuitive - not something we are born to be good at. Sure, some of us are better listeners than others. But consistent, successful listening requires three things in addition to our ears:

1. Consciousness
2. Application of listening skills
3. Practice

Let's take a look at these three.

I'll begin with some definitions. Webster: Listen - to make a conscious effort to hear. There's that "C" word again.

And this from my friend, Brain Trust member and listening expert, Joseph Bailey: "Listening is more than hearing with the ear. It's hearing with all of the senses, even beyond the physical, in all dimensions of our being."

I know - that's a pretty heavy definition. But each of us can reach Joe's level of listening if we are conscious of the fact that listening requires subordinating our own agenda and ego to that of the person speaking to us, at least until they are finished talking.

If I'm champing at the bit to tell my customer all the wonderful things I know about my product and company, my own agenda will prevent me from listening for the single most important thing necessary for my success: what my customer needs. I can't be a successful listener until I become conscious of the fact that my zeal and energy can actually be detrimental.

If I am zoned-out on some astral plane where live my my fears for tomorrow and my hopes for next year, I won't be able to listen when my children tell me about their hopes and fears. And while customers are valuable, they can be replaced. But a child's willingness to talk with a parent is as fleeting as it is precious.

Successful listening requires me to be conscious of the human tendency to be self-absorbed, and to consciously be, as Joe Bailey likes to say, "in the moment" with the person speaking to me.

Application Of Listening Skills
Did you know there were such things? Just as salespeople are made, not born, the same is true for successful listeners. One of the things that defines a professional is thorough knowledge and mastery of the skills of any discipline. You can make yourself a professional listener by mastering the listening skills. Here's a listening skill I call Wait Three Seconds:

While you are talking, I try to consciously tell myself that I will wait three seconds after I think you are through speaking before I respond. By waiting three seconds I accomplish three things:

1. It gives me time to form my response. Yes, three seconds should be plenty of time.

2. Since I plan to wait three seconds once you're through, I can really focus on what you're saying instead of my genius response.

3. I won't interrupt you if you pause or take a breath before you are through speaking.

Another listening skill is paying attention to the person speaking to you - the body language. Even beyond the information you get from the body language, the practice of watching helps you keep your attention on the other person, and away from your ego, self-absorption, and the thing you can't wait to say.

Joe says in order to listen we must be still. He means settle your body AND your mind down, and put yourself in a state that is conducive to listening. This may be one of the most difficult listening skills for me personally. Being still is not something the people who know me would say is one of my characteristics. But when I am able to consciously get still, my ability to listen successfully is significantly improved.

Don't practice hearing - practice being a professional, conscious, successful listener. Believe it or not, practicing listening skills is not easy. Remember what I said about being intuitive: Hearing is intuitive - listening is not. And like any discipline performed by professionals, practice is required

When you make your next sales call, be conscious of the importance of listening; run through the listening skills you've learned, and put them into action. When you are visiting with a friend or loved one, see how deeply you can get into what they are saying. Practice staying "in the moment" with the person speaking to you, instead of thinking about how brilliant your next comment is going to be.

An End In Itself
Joe says listening is "not a means to an end, but an end in itself." If listening is, as I proposed earlier, an important success factor, it must become a way of life for those who strive for personal and professional success.

Someone once said that the books you read and the people you meet will heavily influence the person you will be five years hence. What if we listened to those people as intently as we absorb the words in those books?

The Benefits
Joe Bailey says there are distinct benefits to be gained from listening as a way of life:

• Serenity
• Wisdom
• Living in the present
• Connecting more closely with others
• Balance

I'll take that deal. But I would like to add success to that list. And, as you know, I define success on many different levels, it's not just about money and stuff.

Write this on a rock... Listening may be the most important success factor in any personal or professional endeavor. When was the last time you were given a tip that you could pursue without expense, with relatively little effort, and without having to go anywhere, that could change your life so dramatically? Adopt listening as a way of life.

Joseph Bailey is the author of The Speed Trap, and a number of other books.

©2003 All Rights Reserved

Category: Communicating
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