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Listen Your Way to Greatness

(posted: April 28th, 2010)

This past week, I was working with a client who was experiencing a very big change within his company. He needed quick help, so he called me for some advice. We had a two-hour meeting. And to be honest, I left the meeting feeling as if I had added VERY little value to him or his needs.

I seriously considered not charging him for my time because I thought that I wasn't delivering what he needed. But after I got back from the meeting, what amazed me was the voice mail I received from him about his perception of the consultation. His message said this:

"Kristi, thank you for making me feel like a million bucks. You have a way of making me feel so special and I am now ready to tackle the big beast facing me tomorrow."

WOW! What did I do?

As I wondered about this disparity between my feelings of inadequately helping my client and his perception of great results, I reflected back to our conversation to understand what I actually did to help him so much. Then it occurred to me; I realized that it was nothing more than active listening on my part. "Active" in the sense that there was a purpose to my listening. Simple, yet so difficult to do often times. Important, yet why don't we do it more often? The answer is simple but costly.

We tend to forget to be active listeners because:

  • We forget.
  • We get distracted.
  • We don't have the mental discipline to make it an automatic part of our communication.

Can You Do It?

Listening requires discipline - the discipline to concentrate. Marshall Goldsmith, in his book "What Got You Here Won't Get You There", shares a simple yet powerful exercise I have asked many of my clients to do. I ask them to close their eyes and count slowly to 50 with one simple goal: They cannot let another thought intrude into their mind. They must concentrate on maintaining the count. What could be simpler than that? Try it. Incredibly more than half my clients can't do it. Somewhere around 20 or 30, nagging thoughts enter their brains. They think about what they are having for lunch, a problem at work or their kids.

As Marshall Goldsmith shares,

"This may sound like a concentration test, but it's really a listening exercise. After all, if you can't listen to yourself (someone you presumable like and respect) as you count to 50, how will you ever be able to listen to another person?

Practice Paying Attention

This exercise exposes how easily distracted we can be when we're not talking. And it helps us develop our concentration muscles; our ability to maintain focus and LISTEN. Try to employ these other simple but challenging tactics:

  • Don't interrupt; bite your tongue if you have to!!
  • Don't interject your own reactions or opinions
  • Don't finish the other person's sentences
  • Don't be distracted. Don't let your eyes or attention wander
  • Don't use the words 'no,' 'but,' and 'however"; they will feel discounted not special
  • Ask intelligent questions to show you are paying attention and moving the conversation forward
  • Eliminate trying to impress the other person with how smart or funny you are. Your ONLY aim is to make them feel like a million bucks
  • Paraphrase and repeat back to ensure your understanding; “It sounds like…. So what you're saying is….”
  • Practice attending behavior. I like to refer to the SOLER Model
  • S: Sit (or stand) squarely
  • O: Open posture
  • L: Lean forward
  • E: Eye contact
  • R: Relaxed posture/respect others

These nonverbal behaviors have a tremendous impact of the effectiveness of communication. Studies show that the message retained after an interpersonal exchange is derived 55% from nonverbal behavior, 35% from tone, and only 7% from words.

You Can Do It!

Now try to make your next interpersonal encounter feel special, and you will be well on your way to feeling like a million bucks as you enable them to solve their problems.

Remember God gave us two ears and one mouth. That means we should be listening twice as much as we talk.

So what is the skill that separates the great from the near great? It is the ability to make a person feel that, when you're with them, they are the most important and the only person in the room.

Challenge Yourself
  • What has been your most memorable experience of someone impacting you with their listening?
  • How about of your impact on someone else by listening intently?
  • Do you have a favorite way of making someone feel special in conversation?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and best practices too.

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