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Poor Listeners - The Secret to Getting and Keeping Their Attention

Lynn Marie Sager

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So how can you get someone to listen with you?

Over two thousand years ago, Socrates already had the secret. He used questions to open people's minds. Questions are the key to persuasion. If you want to become persuasive, you must learn to always ask, and seldom tell. In other words, never make a statement if you can ask a question instead.

For example, don't tell people what to think, ask them what they already think. Don't tell people what to do, ask them what they want out of life and how they plan to get it. Don't insist that people listen to you, ask them questions that compel their attention. Don't tell people that they need to change, ask them what will happen if they continue on their present course. And don't demand that people think differently, ask them questions that stimulate their thoughts.

Of course, too many questions at the wrong time, and people may question your motives. They may even tell you to mind your own business. But if you learn to ask the right questions at the right time, you can learn to open a human heart. What's more, once you start to ask effective questions, you'll begin to overcome the greatest barrier to effective communication-the human attention span.

You see, while most people can listen to themselves forever, they usually give other people a rather limited engagement. The average human attention span lasts about twenty seconds, so unless people are interested in your topic, they'll start to get that glazed look in their eyes pretty rapidly. If you want to hold people's attention, you'll need to discuss topics that interest them. And once again, questions are the key. After all, you can't really count on people being interested in your words, but you can generally count on them being fascinated by their own answers.

Before I conclude this article, I should probably warn you that persuasion doesn't always make you popular, especially when you're dealing with people who don't take responsibility. I once met this guy at a party. He was trying to talk me into investing in some tax shelter. The scheme didn't feel right to me, but he kept ignoring my discomfort and insisting that it was perfectly legal. I didn't waste time arguing about my definition of right and wrong. I merely asked him two questions.

"So if something is legal that makes it alright?"

"Yeah, " he answered instantly.

"Slavery was once legal, does that mean slavery was once alright?"

The sour expression on his face told me that I'd struck home. There's no arguing with a well-conceived question. . .

From A River Worth Riding: Fourteen Rules For Navigating Life, by Lynn Marie Sager copyright 2005

You can find much more about persuasion, delegation, communication, and influence on Navigating Life's website, including the three types of questions that can help you reach agreements. Simply go to , and visit Boarding for links to our full lessons on each.

Lynn Marie Sager has toured over two-dozen countries and worked on three continents. Author of A River Worth Riding: Fourteen Rules for Navigating Life, Lynn currently lives in California; where she fills her time with private coaching, public speaking, and teaching for the LACCD and Pierce College. She runs the Navigating Life website, where she offers free assistance to readers who wish to incorporate the rules of worthwhile living into their lives. To read more about how you can use these rules to improve your life, visit Lynn's website at


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