I’m All Ears

“If we were supposed to talk more than we listen,

we would have two tongues and one ear.”

– Mark Twain

Recently, I’ve noticed many of my daily conversations have an unbalanced “speaking-to-listening” ratio. Unfortunately, I’m often the one to blame for this. I find myself steering conversations back to me and trying to push my experiences into another’s story. As a result, I end up speaking more than listening and missing the conversation’s meaning altogether.

Most of us have been blessed with the gift of hearing. Important to realize is the difference between hearing and listening. Often, the “listening” default mode kicks into auto-pilot when someone else starts talking (called “hearing” at this point). Multi-tasking, daydreaming, stopping speakers to insert an opinion- these are all typical auto-pilot reactions. Taking control and intentionally switching the auto-pilot button off takes a concerted effort. But becoming an effective listener is learned, not something that will happen overnight.

Marc Chesley comprised the listening principles listed below. I challenge you to find a way to incorporate one of these principles this week!

1. Less is more.Simple enough, but in practice it’s easy to forget. We all know people who have little control over their talking. Pause before commenting, especially in tense situations. Avoid “me too” chirps in meetings. Allow long pauses in phone conversations.

2. Keep track of the question to statement ratio.One way to say less is to monitor your question to statement ratio. A few thoughtful and strategic questions will have twice the impact over 50 comments struggling to make a point. A good rule of thumb is to have at least a 2-to-1 question to statement ratio.

3. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.This is habit No. 5 from Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Most people seek first to be understood and get their point across. And in doing so, they selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation but miss the meaning entirely. Why? Because this happens when the intent is to only reply and not to understand. Next time consider the purpose of the conversation all the way through and then determine if it warrants your opinion at all.

4. Listen with the intent to understand, not necessarily to reply.This principle goes hand in hand with #3. The ability to listen demonstrates authenticity and gives respect to the speaker. Active listening is most often used to improve personal relationships, reduce misunderstanding and conflicts, strengthen cooperation, and foster understanding.

If you find you’ve spaced out until this reading this exact line, you should probably stop your five other tasks, go to the top of the blog, re-read, and start practicing today these tips. If you’ve found you made it, uninterrupted and fully focused, you should probably start practicing today these tips. Because the reality is – it’s a busy world for all of us, and we’ve all got really good excuses for our multi-tasking and half-listening, but these reasons aren’t going to make us better people and that’s the real goal, isn’t it?


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