I once saw a Dennis the Menace cartoon in the newspaper. As Dennis and Margaret were talking to each other, she was holding up a doll. Evidently she had just told him that it was her new “talking” doll. In the caption under the next frame Dennis said, “Margaret, you don’t need a doll that can talk. You need a doll that can listen!” Of course, Dennis was inferring Margaret was a chatterbox.
Over the years I have come to believe that listening is one of the most difficult, gut-wrenching, challenging skills for any person to develop. I am a professional public speaker by vocation. Having been one who talks more than he listens, I have been painfully aware that learning to listen to other people is hard work and requires focus and a lot of self-discipline. However, it pays rich rewards, both personally and financially. Let me explain.
When I am talking with someone in my family or to a close friend, I have noticed that listening is the most important aspect of the conversation that I can provide for them. I have come to realize that very few people want my advice or my “profound wisdom.” Most people just want to express themselves and to be heard. Being quiet and attentive while someone is speaking to me is of paramount importance. It is equally important to let them know I am actually listening while they are speaking by occasionally injecting something like, “Mmm,” or “Wow!” or “Really?” That lets them know that I am not daydreaming, but rather that I am paying attention to what they are saying.
There is another aspect of listening that is part of the process as well and that is asking questions. Asking questions lets the other person know of your interest in what he or she has to say. Questions like, “How did that make you feel?” or, “Is there anything else?” or, “What else happened?” often causes the person to provide more details or information. This process can be extremely hard, time consuming and sometimes painful. If you are anything like me, you may feel as though you have all the answers and want to tell the person what they need to do to fix their situation immediately. But, again, that is not what listening is about. Listening is opening your heart in order to receive what another person is trying to communicate to you. This is where real connection takes place in relationships. If the other person wants your counsel or wisdom, they will ask for it. If you have listened long enough, you will have earned their trust and have the right to actually give them your counsel. And, because you have given them the time and attention they needed to fully process everything that was on their mind, they will know that you are truly speaking from the depths of your heart and soul.
The reason this is important from a business prospective is because, if you listen to your client long enough and carefully enough, they will usually tell you exactly what it is that they want. Then you will be in a much better position to offer the goods and services that your client needs. You may never discover that specific need if all you are interested in doing is telling them about what you have to offer. I have learned that listening to a client and finding their deepest needs, puts me in a position to offer them my best services. I cannot possibly know what my client’s needs are if I am not willing to carefully listen to them. As a matter of fact, when I am on the phone with someone, I even take notes as they are talking to me so that I do not miss anything. I have discovered that most sales are lost because someone did not pay attention to the needs of a client.
I have spoken to many people who are speech/communication majors. I often ask how many courses they have had in public speaking. Most of them answer by saying, “Many.” I then ask them how many courses they had in listening. Their look says, “What?” That is because they had NO COURSES in listening! It really is an art and science and very few of us know very much about it. Think about it…we have two ears and one mouth. That should be a pretty important object lesson!
I am not writing this Tip as an authority on this subject. I am writing it as a learner and someone who is on the journey with you. All I can say is that I have seen it pay some of the richest dividends in my life, both personally and professionally.
If you think you are a great listener, why not ask two or three of your closest friends what they think? You may be surprised (or get your feelings hurt) by their answer. Years ago someone said to me, “You are the worst listener I have ever met in my life!” Sometimes it takes a comment like that to wake us up to the reality that we need to develop the skill of listening. Again, I have not arrived, but I am grateful to say that I am on the journey. I want to be known as a good listener! Do you? I have learned you can’t listen and talk at the same time. Hold your tongue and watch amazing things happen!
As you think about this Tips, and if you feel that it has any value for you, I would encourage you to apply it. It will be one of the wisest decisions you ever made.
Have a great week! God bless you!
Dr. Robert A. Rohm