Become a Great Listener With These 13 Best Practices

Do you dislike Bad Listening as much as I do? 
I was listening to a Sports Radio TV morning show that has three co-hosts who interact. It is amazing how poorly they communicate. There is constant interruption. It is hard for any of them to get a sentence in before another is interrupting them and arguing.  It is frequent to hear two of them talking non-stop at the same time for sentences!

Do they think this is entertaining? Do they think this is great sports journalism? Do they think they are displaying mature interaction? Hey, I enjoy listening to great and intense debate on issues… but at least let it be a reasonably orderly debate where the sides give each other the space to say what they think.

And politicians. It is like they HAVE TO INTERRUPT the other person talking. It is as if they are constitutionally incapable of letting the other side finish making a point. A debate is not the same as a free-for-all where the loudest, most aggressive interrupter wins the point.

I've done my fair share on interrupting and bad listening. I am a lot better than I was years ago. Still, there is always room for improvement. Here are 13 practical suggestions for becoming a better listener and someone who helps others listen more effectively.

Find out how good (or not) you are as a listener. Hmm. Tough to do! Most of the bad listeners I know, don't know they are bad listeners. In fact, some of them may think they are really good listeners. How will you find out? Get anonymous feedback from at least five people who know you best. Ask them - "In general, how would you rate me as a Listener?" Then give them a scale like: Excellent, Good, Average, Weak, Poor. Or give me a number from 1-10 with 10 as excellent and 1 as terrible.

In the next five work days, make yourself pay close attention to EVERY conversation you are a part of. Watch everyone in terms of how they are as a listener.

Never, never, never cut someone off or interrupt someone. Every time you interrupt someone while they are speaking - you are being a TERRIBLE LISTENER. Name it for what it is.

Value other peoples input. Seek first to hear and understand what they are saying. The goal is NOT to power up and get your opinion across. You want to meaningfully hear and understand what they say and then have an appropriate continuing response. This is one of the great contributions Stephen Covey has made to the listening process. (See image later in this post.)

Keep in mind - the Golden Rule of Listening. You don't like being interrupted. Don't do it to another.

Learn to give space for silence. Wait a few seconds when the other person is finished before answering. This will be so unusual that another person may rush to fill the silence with words. We are such a busy, noisy hurried people. We don't know what to do with silence when it sits there. You will have to be patient as people rush in to fill the void with words.

Take a moment to THINK about a reply. Make sure you have understood what the other person said. I have a friend who actually thinks (for awhile) about what people say before he responds. He values their ideas so much, he actually thinks about them before responding. It took me a little to get use to this, but now - I like it. I try to do that same.

If someone interrupts you, ask them, "Please don't interrupt me. I'd like to finish speaking." That takes courage, but let's be adults. Name the bad behavior for what it is.

Or if someone interrupts you, instead of trying to seize control back, let them finish. Then, before you speak say, "May I continue what I was saying before you interrupted me?"

Give other people permission to say these things to you when you interrupt. Ask them to help you become a better listener.

Learn to speak many fewer words. One of the things that leads to interruption and poor listening is monopolizing conversations. Have you been in a conversation where the other person just can't sot talking? Where they seriously over-communicate? It gets tedious. It also creates a situation where you are more prone to tune out or to interrupt. Conversations are conversations, not monologues.

Measure your pace/rate of speaking. The faster your pace, the more non-stop your sentences flow together, the weaker is that communication experience. Slow down. Have pauses in-between sentences. And if you have a reasonable number of sentences, others will give you the space to say them. Too many and you will be interrupted. 

What other practical ideas do you have? Add a few more to this mix.

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International

p.s.  I wonder if ObamaCare will be available for the surgery below?