9 steps to finally shut up and learn to listen

9 steps to finally shut up and learn to listen

Do you know how annoying it is to be able to tell someone who is just waiting to talk when you are talking to them? If you want someone to like you, don't be that guy.

Poor listening habits are responsible for many of our daily woes. Whether it's a damaging disagreement with a co-worker, poor communication with a spouse or partner, or a horrible customer service experience, the smoking gun is often a simple failure to pay attention - to really hear what the other person is saying.

Sure, it's easy to develop techniques to help you remember what people are saying - that's "two-eared" listening - and maybe if we did that, we'd all have fewer disagreements with colleagues, family and friends. But better two-eared listening will only get you so far. If you really want to embrace a life-changing level of listening and impact your habit of making excuses, it is absolutely essential to develop your heart-based listening skills.

If you listen with your "third ear," then you don't filter what you hear with assumptions, stereotypes, judgment, what someone else has said, and bitterness. You don't let past experiences with someone limit your ability to truly empathize with someone else's "life load." Listening with the third ear also means engaging and connecting with another human being on an emotional level.

Teaching about the third ear

As a professional and personal coach and speaker, I see the power of making this all-important listening connection through my interactions with diverse groups of people and individual clients around the world. For example, each year when I teach my Rutgers International Executive MBA global leadership course in China, I am confronted with a diverse group of engineers, project managers, programmers, and consultants who are accustomed to using their analytical left brain at work more than their interpersonal right brain. Frankly, I can see in their eyes at the beginning of my classes that they would rather give a lion a manicure than be in my class. These students know that for two weeks, no economics, statistics, business analysis, spreadsheets, marketing strategies, research projects or pie charts will be discussed. Instead, they know they will have to use their heart connection to lead, develop, manage and build relationships with teams and individual artists.

Slowly over the course of these two weeks, I am watching future left-brained captains of industry understand, and I am observing a profound change in their attitude as they fully understand the power of managing and listening with the heart.

What blurs your listening vision?

When I consider my listening history, I can recall countless times when I was stopped, defensive or disengaged. The common denominator for me was usually anger, agitation, impatience, resentment, prejudice or a desire to be right. I know my body attended these conversations, but my mind and my empathetic and supportive third ear went for a walk.

I remember a particular sales call from a few years ago that I didn't get because I clearly wasn't listening to the client. Throughout the meeting, I was given many cues about how I should steer the conversation if I wanted the job, but I kept talking, selling my services and preferred approach and not listening. When I didn't get the job, I resisted the temptation to come up with a convenient excuse and instead asked the potential client. That call confirmed what I already knew in my heart: I wasn't listening and it cost me.

Do you remember similar incidents where, looking back with clear hindsight, you admit to having had a conversation with an inoperative third ear?

9 steps to listening with the third ear

I believe that our collective lack of listening skills is one of the greatest challenges we all face. Poor listening skills are barriers to your professional advancement; poor listening prevents us from having deep and meaningful relationships with our spouses and partners; and, worst of all, a lack of third ear listening puts dangerous barriers in the way of maintaining peace between nations.

So what can you do to change?

First, remove your current approach to listening if you are willing to admit that it is not working for you. Then, apply this nine-step approach that will get you started on the path to listening "all in:

  1. First, take a vow to be a better listener. That's a good start, simple but profound.
  2. During conversations, listen to the content, meaning and feeling of what the other person is saying. Stop interrupting!
  3. Listen to understand, help, see and support, not to comment, disagree and find fault.
  4. Allow moments of silence when the person finishes a thought to allow the other person to comment further. Don't jump in!
  5. Listen to what the other person is not saying.
  6. Avoid letting your past or your desire to "fix" the problem or concern prevent you from hearing the full message.
  7. Ask for clarification only when necessary.
  8. If the conversation makes you angry or frustrated, keep telling yourself at that point, "Focus on positive outcomes and expect success!"
  9. Practice these techniques by telling the person you are having a conversation with to touch your arm whenever they feel you have left the conversation.

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