How many times have you heard that in the last few days, weeks or months? Some will have heard it more than others, I know my husband has heard it a few times!
So, why do people feel the need to ask the question? Simple really, they don’t feel like they have been heard by the person they are talking to. But surely, hearing is something we just do, like talking. In fact, hearing is something we can’t always turn off and I know sometimes I’d like to turn off my ears, especially when my dogs are barking! We can close our eyes, we can shut our mouths but we can’t close our ears…. However, just because we are hearing things pretty much 100% of the time, this doesn’t mean we are listening. To actively listen to someone, this takes effort and if we’re honest with ourselves, we rarely do it.
Let’s remember a time when we really felt we were listened to. What did that person do to make us feel that? For me, they were doing the following:
- Direct eye contact – focusing on me as the speaker without making me feel uncomfortable. Eye contact is good although it’s worth remembering that there’s a fine line between comfortable eye contact and the feeling that someone’s eyes are boring into your soul…
- Body language – they were mirroring my actions subtly. Again, it wasn’t obvious so it looked comical but every so often I realized they were sitting the same way I was and it made me feel they were being attentive and really encouraged me to open up
- Head nods, Mmmms and smiling – having this visual and verbal feedback showed me they were hearing what I was saying and understanding the message. They didn’t have to actually say anything but I knew they ‘got it’. Plus the smiles just made me feel more comfortable and that I could carry on for as long as I wanted…..
- Paraphrasing – I tend to speak a lot (I know, hard to believe!) and I feel I have important points to make which I want people to understand and I remember one time, when I was speaking to someone every so often they would repeat back to me what I said, in a really succinct, clear way. It was great as I felt we really understand each other and it was one of the best conversations I have had.
Let me expand on that final bullet – it’s great to be heard and being heard is all about being understood. And this paraphrasing is a great way to ensure that you, as the listener, have heard and understood what the speaker is saying.
When you do this, you should get a firm “Yes!” but you may hear “Actually, no, it’s more like…” and that’s OK too. Better to have that cleared up at the time rather than thinking you’ve understood what’s been said and going on your merry way. I wonder how many arguments, conflicts, world wars could have been averted if the listener hadn’t assumed he/she had heard and understood and actually paraphrased. Let’s face it, to Assume makes an Ass of U and Me.
Ultimately it’s about taking the time and letting someone talk. I know most Managers don’t want to get into conversations with some of their more ‘talkative’, dare I say ‘emotional’, direct reports as they know they could be there for a while. We just don’t have the time these days and I used to be like that…. Until I realized the value you get when you just listen. Not only do you get the chance to rest your voice, which as you know from my previous blogs is important to me but you also re-engage with that employee which is very powerfully positive. The opposite of that can also be very powerful but in a destructive way. I know that realising someone isn’t listening to you and doesn’t want to listen to you when you have something important to say, can be the most de-motivating, hurtful and negative experience. I have experienced it a number of times and I used those occasions to teach me what I shouldn’t do to others.
I know when my previous bosses have truly heard what I wanted to say, I was willing to do anything for them (anything legal anyway!) and my productivity went through the roof. You can only imagine the impact it has had when my husband has truly listened to me aswell! So just think what would happen if you took 30mins out of your day, each day, to listen to someone…..
British Telecom’s adverts in the UK used to end with “It’s Good to Talk”, well on this occasion I disagree, I think it’s good to just listen.