Profaizer: Are You Listening, Really Listening?
Linda Profaizer is a columnist for Woodall's Campground Management. She is a Colorado resident and immediate past-president of ARVC. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Having stepped away from her association duties at the end of 2010, she welcomes input on topics of importance to campground owners for upcoming columns.
You can’t help but hear the song “When I Die Young” by The Band Perry as you are traveling down the road or just have the radio on in the office or at home. I’ve heard it a hundred times, but I never truly listened to it until this morning and was struck by a phrase in the lyrics: “Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin.’” I immediately thought how sometimes true and sad that statement is and how we can all strive to do better at the “listenin” game.
This “aha moment” as Oprah would say, pointed out to me how frequently I go through the day “hearing,” but not truly “listening.” I think about all the advice my mother gave me and how much of it I ignored until she was gone. As I got older, I found that she had some pretty good information that might have saved me some life hassles. How often do we go through the day and not really listen to what our children, our co-workers or our friends are saying or what our significant other is asking us about?
How many times have you been talking with someone, whether a customer, friend, co-worker, etc. and automatically think that you know what they are going to say or that you’ve heard this before, so tune out? What happens at the end of their words and they ask you what you would do or what your opinion is and you have absolutely no idea what they were talking about?
I saw a statistic that we only remember between 25 percent and 50 percent of what we hear (and it’s closer to 25 percent). That means that when you talk to your spouse, customers and staff for 5 minutes, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation. That also means that when you are receiving information, you aren’t hearing the whole message either and better hope that the important parts are in that 25 percent to 50 percent.
I know that listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. Listening gives you an advantage in any conversation: most people speak at only 125 to 150 words per minute, but we can listen at up to 450 words per minute. That means we have time while listening to identify the main points and begin to organize, in our mind, a response.
So, I decided that I would try to truly listen to what others are saying and become a better communicator. Being a good listener also helps avoid conflict and misunderstandings.
Hearing is only part of listening. If you catch part of what you heard and can repeat it, then you have heard at least part of what was being said (that 25 percent to 50 percent). The next part of listening is understanding what was being said in your own way and then when you are sure you understand what was being said, thinking about whether it makes sense and what to do with the information.
Understanding what was being said is critical and may involve repeating back to the speaker what you heard them say. It is possible that you didn’t hear it correctly the first time. Try to maintain an open mind.
Here are some tips on becoming a good listener. It does take practice. Think about these pointers when you are talking to your staff or customers and share them with your staff.
• Sometimes it’s really hard to give your full attention to the person you are speaking to. The phone rings; there’s activity in the store behind the customer, etc. This situation frequently occurs every day – how many times have you been in a store with items to purchase in hand only to be ignored by the sales staff who are busy complaining to each other about their boss or are on their cell phones. Try to give your full attention to the person who is speaking. Put the cell phones aside!
• It’s important to maintain eye contact. When people are preoccupied, it means they almost never keep eye contact. I read that focusing on one eye is a good way to maintain your attention and for some reason, it makes a stronger impact on the person you are speaking with.
• As said above, sometimes we think we know what the person is going to say and our mind is not focused; it wanders. If you begin to feel like you are wandering, change the position of your body and try to really focus on the person’s words.
• Listen not only to the words, but observe the body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. Watch people’s hands. Do they open their palms when talking to you and keep their hands away from their mouths? These are signs of open gestures. Be aware of your own body language and use open gestures. Listening is also trying to understand how people feel.
• Always try to maintain an open mind. Don’t prejudge. There are also times, particularly with someone who knows you, that they use words or phrases that are hot buttons for you. Once that button is pushed, listening can stop. This can happen with your customers as well. Try to ignore the words and listen to what the person is trying to say.
• It may help to take some notes during the listening process. It’s hard to remember everything that was said and shows that you are actively listening.
• Always let the speaker finish before you begin to talk. If you interrupt, it looks like you aren’t listening, even though you may be. So, let that person say everything they want to say.
• Always pause before you speak, which gives the other person the opportunity to add or clarify what he/she was saying.
• This is a point that makes so much sense: Let yourself finish listening before you begin to speak. If you are so busy thinking about what you are going to say next, you can’t really listen.
• Ask questions: If you aren’t sure what the speaker has said, then repeat in your own words what you thought the speaker said. You could say, “Sounds like what you are saying” or “Let make sure I understand what you said.”
• You listen with your face as well as your ears. You can give some feedback while the person is talking with a nod, or smile, frown, raising your eyebrows, etc. It lets the person know that you are listening. We’ve all been in conversations when you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying. You wonder if it’s worthwhile continuing to speak and feel as though you are talking to a brick wall. You can also encourage the person to continue with small verbal comments like “uh, huh” and “yes” or throw in an occasional question.
In an article by Susie Michelle Cartright, she said, “Active listening is really an extension of the Golden Rule. To know how to listen to someone else, think about how you would want to be listened to." She is right, we all want to have someone truly listen to what we have to say and we hope it happens before we head for that campground in the sky!