Jim Collins records some profound advice he took to heart, offered by the legendary John Gardner. He told Collins, “It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting. Why don’t you invest more time being interested?”
In life, business and relationships, a common temptation of goal-centered individuals is to forget the power of listening, a crucial element in expressing interest. Listening as much as any other skill communicates, “I care.”
Good listening requries that I:
Be quiet. Mark Twain wrote, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” Yes, as employer, parent or even spouse, maybe you know more or have more information. But, when the other person is talking, just listen. Don’t think about your response, don’t interrupt, talk over them or finish a sentence. When the person is finished ask questions which clarify, say, “tell me more about…” Don’t respond if you don’t hear accurately what’s been said.
Ask questions. Questions which center on, even repeat terms or phrases the speaker has used demonstrate good listening without my own agenda becoming the focus. Ask good questions, and then again, be still!
Put the speaker at ease. Give them full freedom to speak. Focus like a laser on their concerns and issues. Respond with nods, gestures or terms which encourage them to continue. Maintain appropriate eye contact. Actively jettison distractions (close the door, turn off your cell phone). Avoid any indication that says to them: “I’m in a hurry” or “I’ve got more important things to do.” If needed, talk about how much time is available in advance, not during the other person’s communication.
Empathize. Actively look at things from their perspective. Don’t “own” the opposite view or immediately hear them from the idea that your leadership or ideas are being threatened. If you hear something you disagree with, wait to discuss it until you’ve heard the whole of what they’re trying to say. Assume that you don’t know best!
Listen for more than words. Volume, tone, key words and emotion convey the real message as much as the initial few sentences. Ideas get buried with verbosity if a person feels ill at ease or has a hard time talking to you. Realize they may feel the need to cover their message with “acceptable” terms. Observe gestures, facial expressions, and eye-movement that says more than what is expressed.
Who in your sphere needs you to express interest?