My husband is in the process of getting his Canadian citizenship. As part of the process, he had to take two tests: an oral test and a comprehension test. He scored higher in the first than the second, which didn’t surprise me. I once nicknamed him ‘Talking Boy’ because he’s so good at talking, but a good listener he is not.
Truth be told, I haven’t always been a good listener myself but I’m taking measures to rectify that. (My success as a life coach depends on it.) I’m aware of good listening best practices and do my best to practice them both professionally and personally. For example:
- I’ll make eye contact with you even if you don’t reciprocate, but not in a creepy way.
- I’ll ask you a lot of questions about yourself because I’m curious, and a bit nosey.
- I’ll meet you where you’re at, whether that means high-fiving your wins or hugging out your lows.
- I’ll try really, REALLY, hard to give all my attention to what you’re saying, versus investing 50% in thinking up a witty reply.
These are just a few examples of good listener DOs. DO make eye contact, DO ask questions, DO mirror the person talking, and DO give 100% to the act of listening. But what about good listener DO NOTs?
If you want to be a good listener, listen, don’t judge.
By judge, I don’t mean criticize, although judgment and criticism often come hand in hand. Rather, I’m referring to this Cambridge Dictionary definition:
to form, give, or have as an opinion, or to decide about something or someone
— Related reading: The #1 Skill That Will INSTANTLY Make You More Socially Likeable (Your Tango) —
I recently attended a one-week training session for coaches at the Adler Graduate Professional School. Over the course of the week, we participated in dozens of exercises. Being the eager beaver I am, I held up my hand when our instructor asked if anyone would be willing to step up and talk about something, anything, for a couple of minutes.
With a captive audience listening, I talked about my upcoming trip to Guatemala — my fears, my excitement, and how this adventure came to be.
When my two minutes were up, the teacher turned to my fellow students and asked, “What did we just learn from Viv?” Two teaching assistants, each with their own pen and easel pad, took notes as my peers reflected on my story, which is where it gets interesting.
On one board was a list of facts:
- Viv’s going to Guatemala
- She’s never done a trip like this before
- She’s taking pro-biotics to prepare her gut
On the other board was a list of opinions:
- Viv’s a good person (I’m traveling with a woman who runs several charities in Guatemala)
- She has a supportive husband (I shared a joke he made about paying a ransom if I get kidnapped)
- Friendship is really important to her (I’m traveling with my friend Laura)
While I do my best to be a good person, I have a supportive husband, and I cherish my friend Laura, I hadn’t said as much in my two-minute speech. The listeners had listened — and made assumptions. That’s what we humans do. When we’re pressed for time, as we so often are, we jump to conclusions in order to make sense of our world. Often, though, the assumptions we make aren’t as favourable as the ones made about me.
- A friend says, “I can’t make it to your party,” and you hear, “she doesn’t value our friendship.”
- Your husband says, “I’ll do the dishes later,” and you hear, “Do them yourself!”
- Your mom says, “I haven’t seen you in two weeks,” and you hear, “You’re a sh*tty daughter.”
When we make assumptions, we inhibit our ability to be good listeners and essentially revise other people’s stories based on our values, beliefs, and experiences — all of which are likely quite different from the storyteller’s.
How can we comprehend other people’s stories when we’re busy crafting our own out of their material? How can we understand what they’re trying to communicate when we’re not fully listening? And how helpful are we actually being when we dish out opinions and advice based on our assumptions?
If you’re not a good listener, know that you’re not alone.
According to research, the average person listens at only about 25% efficiency.* But hey, why settle for average when you could excel? Imagine how much your business and personal relationships might improve if you could dial that up to 50% or 75% or even 95% (I’ll stop there because we’re only human.)
To quote George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
As listening expert Paul Sacco, Ph.D, says in 9 Things Good Listeners Do Differently, “we all have a good listener within us.” Are you ready to tap into yours? Tell me. I’m all ears ; )
Viv for today xo
Before you go …
I believe things happen for a reason. You landed on this page because you’re open to becoming a more authentic, fulfilled and self-aware human being. So am I. Let’s do this together. Before you leave, take a moment to sign up for MY NEWSLETTER so we can keep in touch.
* Husman, R. C., Lahiff, J. M., & Penrose, J. M. (1988). Business communication: Strategies and skills. Chicago: Dryden Press.