"A man’s silence is wonderful to listen to. ” (Thomas Hardy)
“Excuse me, what did you say?”. It happens to all of us. We are in a conversation and suddenly we lose track of what was communicated. Our thoughts were elsewhere, we drifted off. How can we become excellent listeners and make the most out of a networking situation, sales conversation or listening to a speaker? We need to open our eyes to our listening skills.
You would think that our ears are doing the job for us. Think again! Our ears a plain transmitters of sound waves. They scan various frequencies and we pick up just a part of the complete orchestra of available melodies. Try the following: sit still, close your eyes and listen to all the sounds around you: the clock ticking on the wall, the fan turning in your computer, the cars driving by, the sound of the elevator next door, your own breathing. You would go completely mad if you would consciously pay attention to all these sound vibrations around you. But they are there nevertheless. Ever experienced that your colleague bursting out with, “I wish they'd stopped drilling!” and only then did you realise that their were road works outside the building? You did not tune in into that frequency. Your colleague did and that changed his experience of the same moment.
Imagine that you are networking during a client event and you start talking to an interesting prospect. You think you are completely focused and that you listen carefully. But are you? You hear the word budget and you start to rehearse mentally what you should reply if the budget is small; what if it is huge? You see the person’s badge and you notice that she works in Barbados. You start to associate this word with a picture of an island, sunshine; would it be the same as Jamaica? And suddenly you remembered a few holiday moments you enjoyed last year when you were swimming with dolphins in the Red Sea. “Excuse me, what were you saying again?”.
For the human mind, it is not easy to listen. We have too many senses that fight for our attention, and this causes distraction. However, these senses offer important information when you talk to a person. So how can we listen more attentively? The following steps to conscious listening might help you:
1. Be aware that your ears are filters of sounds: you might not hear everything that is being said.
2. Know that your mind is doing the translation. We quickly translate what sounds right to us, which is not necessarily the right thing, especially if your are not speaking in your mother tongue.
3. Your mind is the filter and it has been programmed. It will hear what it wants to hear based on our previous experiences and belief systems. Why? Because a human being likes to feel safe. The more quickly we calculate a situation, the more quickly we can feel at ease.
4. We tend to stay in our comfort zone. We do not like to appear ignorant by asking for the meaning to be spelled out. For instance, what do you mean with leisure time? Do you have a safari in mind? You might reply: “No, I meant that we need long breaks between the sessions because our audience prefers to network a lot”.
5. Summarise in between the conversation to clarify the situation: “If I understood you correctly, your venue has no shuttle service with the hotel?”, “Yes, but we offer free transportation by taxi instead”. Learn to ask extra questions, and by summarising the answer, the information will be spelled out.
6. We also listen with our eyes: how does the person look and what does this image say to us. When you are in a session, try to close your eyes and see what you pick up then. Or use your eyes on purpose: does the sales manager you are talking to look enthusiastic, stressed or confident? Don’t always trust your eyes either: they are filters, too, and can lead you astray. Eyes can also support you, however, for instance when someone states: “Yes, we can accommodate you, ” but he is not looking you in the eye and his mouth has a nervous twitch. It is an unconvincing answer.
7. Trust your senses and question them: what do you feel and emotionally experience during a conversation? What do you see and observe? What do you sense? What does your mind understand?
Listening successfully is a skill you can learn. Try to listen with your heart. Isn’t it so that our biggest ear is right in the middle of our (h)EAR(t)? Be silent, listen carefully, and take care to heart!
Marianne Korten runs a personal and professional development company Soul at Work in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Corporate clients and individuals improve their conscious communication and creation skills through her expertise. Through coaching and training services clients gain greater self-confidence, balance, trust and skills to create the (business) life they want. Popular topics by demand are: public speaking skills, networking skills, career changes, mind-body-soul balance and finding your personal mission and vision. International companies and expatriates benefit from her background in the international meetings industry, of working with a variety of cultures and her personal skills as a certified coach, trainer, speaker and columnist. Sign up for her free E-Newsletter on: http://www.soul-at-work.com