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Chapter 1-Listening Until You Really Hear

Listening makes the difference between passing or failing a test, making or losing a sale, getting or losing a job, motivating or discouraging a team, mending or destroying a relationship. But listening has gotten a bum reputation as a passive state. Not so. Listening is simply the precursor of successful activity.

Tip 1. Decide That You Want to Listen.

Many people listen poorly simply because they have no intention of listening well. They’re preoccupied. They’re too busy talking so that they can feel understood. They’re focused on getting what they want done or heard; they have no time to be interrupted by someone talking to them.

Parents, teachers, and other authority figures confuse us with other poor listening habits and clues. These adults send us the wrong messages about listening with comments like, “Don’t pay any attention to her.” “Just look away and he’ll leave you alone.” “Just pretend you don’t notice and he’ll stop.” “You can’t believe everything you hear.” “Don’t let the bully know it bothers you.” “Forget what she says; she didn’t mean it—she’s just angry.” “He just talks a good fight and blows smoke. Nothing will come of it.” “Tell her what happened. If she doesn’t listen, that’s her problem.” No wonder kids doubt their ears and eyes and can’t decide whether to listen or not.

Have you ever heard people say that they don’t have time for something—golf, or walkathons, a charity event, or church, or dinner with a friend? Not true. We all have the same 24 hours each day; what they mean is that something isn’t important enough to them to make time for it. The same is true of listening. We will find ourselves being poor listeners until we make up our minds that we want to become good listeners. Listening requires conscious effort and a willing mind. It’s a decision to take an action, not just waiting your turn to talk.

Listening involves actively processing what the other person says to you: clarifying, asking questions, drawing out additional information, reading between the lines, giving feedback, verifying understanding, analyzing, and drawing conclusions about what you’ve heard.

What’s the payoff? Listening keeps you informed, up to date, and out of trouble. It increases your impact when you do speak. It gives you a negotiating edge, power, and influence. It makes other people love you. Whether you’re sitting around the conference table in a team meeting or around the dining table for your Thanksgiving meal, make a conscious effort to listen.

Listening is a gift to yourself and to other people. Give it on purpose—not just when you’re forced to do so.

Tip 2. Listen With a Clean Slate.

Good listeners welcome new information and new ideas. Good listening does not require building a wall to screen out ideas and people that have as their purpose to change you or the things you believe. Rather, listening means standing on level ground, listening as though you were a doctor gathering new symptoms from a patient or a pilot in touch with the control tower during a storm. Excellent listeners expect to grant differences, grow their views and values, and gain insights.

Tip 3. Clean Your Listening Filter.

There are some announcements that we’ve trained ourselves not to hear. When the TV sports commentator says, “Let’s pause now to let you hear from our sponsors,” you take that as your cue to get something to eat. The digitized voice on the airport tram says, “Please stay clear of the doors; they are about to close.” The mysterious voice on the parking lot of the rental car agency instructs: “Please leave your keys in the car and note your gas mileage. Before leaving your car, please check the car for your personal belongings.” At times you do not hear these routine announcements at all.

We all have built-in filters to save us time in listening. The trick is to identify the ones that we should keep in place and the ones that we need to clean or remove. Executives may filter any advice given by an outside consultant. Bosses may filter any suggestions given by certain employees. Customers may filter any advertisements from a company that has disappointed them in the past. Some filters save time; others prevent opportunity and understanding. Continually upgrade your list to determine which are which.

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