Do people interrupt you mid-sentence? Or start to answer your question before you’ve finished asking it? Do they talk over you? Are you the one who interrupts?
Good communication requires active listening. And active listening means engaging.
There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak. – Simon Sinek
Four Ways to “Up” your Listening Skills
- Be curious. The word curiosity comes from the Latin “cura”, meaning to care. So it’s not only the desire to learn, it is also about caring. Neuroscience research has shown that curiosity stimulates learning and enhances memory.
- Leave space for not knowing. The more expertise we gain in our field, the less likely we are to open ourselves to new perspectives. Even when you think you know the answer, make space for new learning. This lets the speaker know that it is safe to share ideas, and it opens the way to discovery and innovation.
- Suspend the need to be right. Most exchanges are not win-lose propositions. Be open to contrary opinions. Finding even the smallest piece of common ground can pave the way to fruitful conversations in the future.
- Adopt a beginner’s mindset. Be an explorer. In every conversation there is the possibility for new discovery. Favor asking over telling. Use phrases like: How would that work? I don’t know, what to you think? Tell me more.
Make Active Listening a Habit
Intention alone is not enough. We have to create a habit of deep listening. The habit loop consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward that reinforces behavior.
Remember Pavlov’s dog? Same process!
The cue is the stimulus that signals the brain that something will follow. Find a cue that works for you.
I use the Chinese character for “listen”. I like this cue for two reasons: 1. It’s beautiful and it’s fun to draw. Great for doodlers and visual learners. 2. It contains all the elements for good listening.
The symbol is a composite of six different word characters: Ear, King (or dominant one), Ten, Eyes, One, Heart.
The servant (the listener/ear) does not interrupt the king (the speaker), but wraps his ear around him, attending to every word with ten eyes and one heart. True listening gives the speaker full respect and undivided attention.
This character/cue creates a vision in my mind for deep listening. The listening itself is the routine. The rewards are better understanding and trusting relationships.
Remember that listening is more than hearing. Listening requires engagement. Find a cue that works for you.
A cue can be as simple as looking in the mirror. Observe that you have two ears and one mouth. Remind yourself to use your ears first. Notice how you can physically close your mouth but not your ears. See how your eyes face forward in order to pick up physical clues that the ears miss.
We are physically designed for listening. Maybe we’ve simply forgotten how. But we can fix that. We can learn to Listen Up!