I cannot count how many times I have been asked to answer the question, “how would your friends describe you?” The number of times I responded that people would describe me as a good listener is probably triple that. But if I am being brutally honest with myself (and you), the fact is that I am a lousy listener. Lousy!
At a board retreat last week, the facilitator shared a wonderful guide to having fruitful conversation. The guide provided several tips for intentional listening which included, resisting the urge to jump in and interrupt because you had a similar experience, resisting the urge to judge, categorize or formulate solutions/suggestions for the other person, and resisting the urge to tell your own related story. Instead, for intentional listening one is to be intensely tuned in to the words, the flow, the person’s energy, and their facial and body expressions as they share their story. As I went down the list of the DONT’s of good listening, my counts of “guilty as charged” approached the 95th percentile.
I was ashamed at my bad listening habits so I decided that this was an area I was going to improve. I made a mental note. It seems that the universe read my mental note and decided to show me how good listening works this week. On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, I am reflecting on what I learned from these experiences. I share with you these reflections, not because I believe I have mastered listening (I am still a Lousy Listener) but because writing about it can help me codify the process of forming new habits that lead to more fruitful conversations.
My first experience was at work. I was invited to a meeting with a potential partner on a project. There were five of us and meeting for the first time. We were pitching our services to a potential client two hours after that initial meeting and it was critical that we nail down our presentation strategy. We talked about a number of things like alignment, experiences and strengths and anticipated some of the client’s questions. We listened intently to each other’s ideas, asked clarifying questions and in a short time we were on the same page with a clear plan. We were excellent listeners! But, when we met with the clients, we realized that the setup was less than ideal. One person was on the phone, the other was on video conference, and two were in person. This scenario was challenging and presented obstacles to deep listening. We could not read the body language of the people on the phone. We had to pay attention to tone, and what they were not saying was just as important as what they were saying. But, as often happens with an “invisible” participant, one forgets that they are there. To have fruitful conversations, we need engagement and acknowledgement. Though our meeting went well, what I wished we had done differently was to acknowledge the “invisible” person much more, and I would look directly at the camera to engage and acknowledge the person on video conferencing.
One of the challenges of good listening for me comes when the person is asking me a question. Normally, I begin to work on the answer before the person is finished asking the question. Do you see how this could be a problem? I assume that I “get” the question and half listening to what the person is saying. Instead of tuning in to my answer, I have to concentrate on what is being said to assess why the question is being asked? What is at the root of the question is important to understand so that the answer can address the specific need.
It was an eventful week for me. I received compliments for a blog I wrote this week and I signed a new consulting client for Yaya Speaks. Practicing good listening contributed to those accomplishments. I am hoping that with more practice, I will be better at it and that it will get easier with time.