What Good Listeners Do: Becoming the Company That Others Love to Keep

Think about the three people you enjoy talking with the most-one person in your family, one of your work associates, and one of your friends.

Now, why did you select these three favorite conversationalists? Best joke tellers? Sharpest sense of humor? Ability to weave spellbinding stories? Someone well informed on a variety of topics?

Not likely-for while each of the above characteristics will improve a person’s one-on-one communication skills, our habit is to gravitate toward those people who listen attentively when we speak.

Good listeners are rare, aren’t they? Daily, we get reminders of scattered attention. “Did you say this order was for here, or to go?” “Tell me your name again.” “You mentioned a time you want to meet with me. Was it 3:00 or 4:00 tomorrow afternoon?”

Recently, at a social hour prior to a business luncheon, I met a man who remained to talk with me and two others. Five minutes into the conversation, he extended his hand, smiled broadly, and said, “Hello, I don’t think we have met.” When I realized he wasn’t kidding, I was astonished. Clearly, he hadn’t listened to our initial exchange of names.

So if you really want to become “the company that other people love to keep,” concentrate on becoming a keen listener. People will gravitate toward you, invite you back, hire you, invite you to serve on corporate boards, promote you, conduct more business with you, and introduce you to their colleagues.

Here are a dozen dynamic ways to earn the reputation of “good listener.”

  • Maintain steady eye contact. Devote total attention to the speaker visually.
  • Keep your posture alert, like an athlete ready for action. Think of how you are turned off by slouchers, who appear indifferent, withdrawn or rude. Watch TV interviewers, whose entire form signifies involvement, eagerness.
  • Give the speaker verbal cues, encouraging her to say more. Examples: “I see” “Tell me more” “That’s interesting” “Then what happened?” “Please continue” Notice that each cue is brief, just two or three words. That’s enough to keep the speaker engaged.
  • Remove physical barriers. Walk around to the front of your desk and sit near your visitor. Cut off your desk phone, cell phone or pager. When the barrier is a loud radio or nearby conversation, use the “off” button or move to a quieter setting.
  • Paraphrase and give “listening checks.” “If I understand you correctly, you thought the meeting lacked direction that a clear agenda could have provided.” Then pause, so the speaker can confirm your statement, or offer clarification.
  • Demonstrate empathy. Someone tells you they were passed over for a promotion they expected. You respond, “Well, that must have been very disappointing to you, I’m sure.”
  • Share the limelight. Years ago, I heard this advice: “To hold a conversation, let go of it once in awhile!” Instead of dominating your next conversation with two or three people, try facilitation to get others involved: “Sharon, we’d like to hear your recommendations on this topic, so please take a minute to share your ideas.”
  • Indicate that you have an open mind. “Well, I’ve never heard a suggestion like the one you just made. I’m willing to explore its merits. Please tell me how we would implement your idea.”
  • Listen to someone’s problem, yet leave the solution to the speaker. Even deeply troubled people resent a “Mr. Fixit” mentality. Instead of seeking our answers, they’re requesting our concern and support.
  • Listen for intent as well as content. Management guru Peter Drucker said, “Communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Listen “between the words” by sensing moods. Explore feelings while you examine facts.
  • Listen thoroughly before you contradict. Then the speaker will believe that you reached your opposing position fairly.
  • Consider every opportunity to listen an opportunity to learn. Keen listeners pay attention to comments others would “turn off.” Stick with the speaker, even when the topic sounds dull initially. While you learn, you’ll earn-the speaker’s gratitude and respect.

Try this “dynamic dozen.” Soon you’ll be known as “the company that others love to keep.”

Bill Lampton, Ph.D., author of The Complete Communicator: Change Your Communication, Change Your Life! works with organizations that want to experience CPR-Cooperation, Productivity, Renewal of Mission! Call him at 770-534-3425. E-mail: drbill@commlampton.com  Web site: www.commlampton.com 

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