‘And the award for Best Listener goes to Christine Pearce!’ The whole church clapped and cheered. It was a quasi-awards night at the end of the year and people were being awarded for outstanding contributions to the members. Half the cheering was because people knew The Lovely Christine was born with 50% hearing loss and the others laughed because they wanted to say, ‘She gets lots of practice listening to her husband.’ But the discerning among them knew that this was no irony.
She has outstanding skills in the art and science of listening. It’s what makes her a much-loved counsellor. Mind you, the field is not all that crowded because the rest of us are generally ridiculous at listening. Hence, one of my favourite quips:
Listening is an unnatural act between consenting adults.
I’ve blogged about this before. Read, Listen, or stage your own train wreck.
How to get a reputation as a good listener.
Recommendation #1: A good listener doesn’t hang with people who will test his/her powers of listening.
This is easier said than done. If it’s your mother or father, or the spouse of an old friend, you are honour-bound to endure. We used to come home from an outing at around 11:00PM where we had left ‘Granny’ (my Mum) to baby sit, and even though dying to get to sleep we would have to listen to her babbling on for an hour or more without taking a breath. It was about what Mrs This had said yesterday, or what Mr That had done last month which reminded her of a time during the war, on a train to Rockhampton in the rain and how the conductor told a story which was probably funnier when he told it and … Oh Dear! I miss her precious little pink face, endearing smile and apple snow dessert, but I don’t miss her talking. It might be why I am not such a good listener even today. Knowing I tire easily and get irritated if the conversation is going nowhere, I keep meetings short where I know I’m going to be babbled at. I’m not too good at conferences, either unless the speaker is on a red hot topic; and funny.
People ask me why I am a professional speaker and I say, ‘It beats the living daylights out of sitting in the audience listening to other people.’
Recommendation #2: A good listener doesn’t finish other people’s sentences.
The World’s Greatest Listener says I am not allowed to do this anymore because her friends don’t like it. I told her they shouldn’t finish my sentences but that became yet another argument I lost.
ME: Did you read the news item about the Sydney …
YOU: … the Sydney train crash. Yeah!’
ME: Hmm. That’s one way I could have finished that sentence but I was planning to say ‘Did you read the news item about the Sydney man who threw his wife out the window because she finished his sentences all the time?’
Recommendation #3: A good listener doesn’t get up in the middle of your sentence to feed the cat.
I’ve seen bad listeners leave a home dinner conversation – without a reason or excusing themselves – to let the dog out, let the dog in, pack up the dinner plates, start washing the dishes, sweep the floor, check email on the computer, play with the kids, flick through a magazine, open the mail … all as if I am not even there. In business consulting or training meetings, they will vanish to the toilet, duck out for a smoke, get up for a coffee, stand up and look out the window, check their messages, answer their messages. I saw one woman in New Zealand get up and milk a cow. (I didn’t. I just wanted to see if you were listening).
Recommendation #4: A good listener manages his or her mobile phone.
A colleague invited me to meet a prospect for coffee. I reckon he took seven calls without excusing himself and ignored me for about 50 minutes of our hour together. I told my friend I wouldn’t be putting in a proposal. His prospect was ridiculous. If you are expecting a baby’s birth or a death notice within the hour, have your phone on the table and tell the person your circumstances and ask if they would mind your taking the call if it should come. Otherwise turn the stupid thing off and let your callers behave as they would if you had been eaten by a shark. If you are showing a report, or sample images on your phone, you will need to discipline yourself not to answer
Recommendation #5: A good listener maintains eye contact.
Do you know people who commit these poor listener crimes? Do you commit them?
- Eyes wandering to distractions, the TV, an attractive person, a bird in a tree.
- Checking your watch, or trying to make it look like you are NOT checking your watch.
- Checking your watch, or trying to make it look like you are NOT checking your watch while pretending to scratch your wrist.
- Checking your phone for messages, the time, an email, a missed call.
- Changing the subject back to yourself.
- Changing the subject entirely.
- Doing a pre-sleep eyelid flutter.
Recommendation #6: A good listener pays attention verbally and visually.
I learned about active listening a long time ago and one day I might be free of all these aforementioned egregious errors and actually get through an entire conversation like a polite good listener. The active listening mnemonic I like is O.A.R.S. (Observe, Attend, Respond, Summarise.)
Watch and pay attention to the facial and vocal signals coming from the other party.
Show a reflected kind of facial gesture and posture.
Grunt along with , Mmmm, and Hmmm, and Oooh! and Hey! and Wow! and Really?
When you get a chance, repeat a bit of the story as if marvelling at it, or querying the other party’s feelings.
Question:What kind of listener are you? Do you share my need to address one of these egregious errors, or are you as guilty as I am on all of them? Please leave a comment.