I talk too much. Much of my job requires that I speak at length to individuals and groups. I get tired of hearing myself talk. I can only imagine how others feel. Recently, I had a few days off and took a well-deserved break from talking. I tried to listen more to strangers and those more familiar. It was heavenly.
Below are some of my insights learned while trying to become a better listener.
- For many of us, becoming a better listener is a skill we need to learn and practice.
Why should we bother? The number one reason that managers or supervisors need to develop better listening skills is because it is a highly valued and evaluated skill by those who lead, direct, or evaluate the performance of others. For the rest of us, we should become better listeners because it will signal to others that we are concerned with them and care about their lives, jobs, feelings, and aspirations. Listening builds closer relationships at work and at home. Challenge yourself at work to listen more and solve problems later. Be sure you have heard the whole story before planning your response. Ask follow-up questions and give feedback to make sure that you understand the speaker.
Our educational system and corporate America reward the talkers. Teachers are impressed by the students who wave their hands in the air and have something meaningful to add or ask. Leaders are grateful for the underlings who have novel answers to complex questions and feel comfortable sharing their insights with the team. However, this reward system can turn some of us into non-stop talkers and fairly poor listeners. For these reasons, and surely more, listening is a skill that can lay dormant in our toolbox of abilities.
- We naturally miss much of the information said by others who speak before and after us.
Consider the last time you spoke in a group meeting. For most of us, this is how the lead up (Stage 1), speaking (Stage 2), and after speaking (Stage 3) go. Stage 1: you are thinking about what you are going to say. Stage 2: you are talking and making sure you say everything you want to say. Stage 3: you are assessing how your comments went. All three stages take up a lot of energy and mental processing, and therefore, severely impact our ability to process what anyone else is saying. The people most directly impacted are the people who speak before and after us. In fact, studies have proven this to be the case! (See Malcolm Brenner’s “The Next in Line Effect,” Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 12, no 3 (1973): 320-23.)
- Listening allows for new learning.
We can only talk about what we know. Listening allows us to learn new information, process it, and combine it with previously obtained facts. Try to put your preconceived ideas out of your mind and be open to new ideas and perspectives when talking to someone about something you feel knowledgeable about. This is harder than anyone wants to admit but is very beneficial to the listening process.
Start practicing this old-new skill. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy every second of it.