Silence is rare. We put on music, have TVs play in the background, radios hum, appliance motors kick on, BBs beep. Oh - and there goes my graceful cat, tumbling like a bowling ball down the stairs. There is always some form of noise happening; no wonder stopping to listening is hard. We are attuned to noise and can sometimes not notice a switch in the tone indicating a need to truly listen.
There are courses and books about how to listen offering great advice like:
- Ask more questions and wait for the answers
- Don't interrupt (have you met my family?)
- Paraphrase what you believe you heard to indicate listening and ensure you've got the message correctly.
We all want to be heard. We have great stories to tell and ideas to share. It's true we don't listen well but it's rarely from malice or disdain.
It's a two-way effort. With so much background noise, so much information coming to us on a daily basis, so many things competing for our attention, the speaker also needs to help the audience listen.
- First, by asking for undivided attention. If something doesn't require undivided attention, don't ask for it.
- Then helping the audience be in a place where listening is possible. A quiet room. A scheduled time. A private space.
- Frame the message clearly: what I need you to know; why; if there is some action to be taken.
- Allow for questions (that's the best place for background information).
- Restate the key point and request.
Listening is a collaborative skill - it's one half of the conversation.