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October 2, 2007 by Steve
Communication is more than writing and speaking. One of the most overlooked aspects of communication is listening. Being a skillful listener will provide you with a deeper understanding of why people do what they do and will present you with insights about yourself.
‘The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.’ ~ Peter Drucker
The best way to build your listening habit is to practice, practice, and practice. Here are six tips that will help you build the listening habit.
1) Listen for key words. The words people use will tell you a lot about what part of their nervous system they are accessing. If they say words like see, notice, indicate then they are accessing the visual part of their nervous system. These are visual cues. If they use words like hear, listen, say then they are accessing the auditory part of their nervous system. These are auditory cues. If they use words like touching, feeling, flowing then they are accessing the kinesthetic part of their nervous system. These are kinesthetic cues. Some people will tend to rely on auditory cues as opposed to visual and kinesthetic cues which may mean they are primarily an auditory person. This can also apply for people who are primarily visual and kinesthetic.
2) Make eye contact. This will signal to people that you are interested in what they’re saying because you’re paying attention. When you make eye contact with others observe the eye position of the other person. If the person looks up to the right or left then they are accessing the visual part of their nervous system. If the person looks side to side then they are accessing the auditory part of their nervous system. If they look down and to the right then they are accessing the kinesthetic part of their nervous system.
3) Listen for the meaning behind the words. A presupposition of NLP is that a person’s behavior is always driven by a good intention. If you were to listen closely to others you may well find that everyone you speak with is well intended. Listening this way will allow you to hear a person’s underlying commitment or concern as opposed to their judgment or criticism. If you listen to people this way you will develop a thorough understanding of what drives and motivates others.
4) Stop your inner dialogue. We all have that inner voice that wants to contribute to the conversation. Part of becoming a good listener means that you need to put your inner voice aside and start paying attention to others. When you start to do this you will learn more and miss less. I had an experience of this when I was listening to a cab driver. The cab driver just happened to own the cab company and we were talking about entrepreneurship. Since he was an owner I decided to interview him.
Steve: “So Len, I’m curious, how do you keep good employees in your business?”
Len: “I treat my employees the way I like to be treated. It’s only fair that way.”
Steve: “Oh, nice one. I never thought of it that way, simple but logical. Ok, I got another question, how do you hire good people to work for your company?”
Len: “Well when I bring them in so that we can meet, I let them do all the talking to see if they dig a hole for themselves. Sometimes people will begin to talk about money right away. You don’t want to hire those people. You want to hire people who are passionate about the job.”
Steve: “Good point. It sounds like your strategy is to listen to people.”
Len: “Yup, I figure that we all have two ears and one mouth anyways, so we should listen twice as much as we talk.”
Steve: “I’ve never heard that before. I’m going to use that sometime.”
I think I learned more in that conversation than all my four years of University. The best part was that I picked up all this great advice from listening to his dialogue instead of mine.
5) Focus on the story. Everyone has a story to tell. We may not all be very good story tellers but that comes with practice. If you want to be a great story teller you will want to start listening to other great story tellers. Learn to listen to others tell their stories. You’ll get more tips by listening and you’ll build your own skill to be a great storyteller.
6) Ask questions. If you ask questions it shows that you are paying attention to others and that you’re genuinely interested. It also provides clarity for both people during the conversation. Asking questions provides you with an understanding and helps keep the flow of the conversation. Asking good questions is a part of being a skillful listener. In my article, Are Questions the Answer? published in Confidence Bound magazine, I explain why questions are an important part of listening.