Are you ready? Probably not. The holiday season is approaching and you’re going to find yourself in circumstances where your your listening skills will be taking center stage.
At work: There is a rush to get as much done as possible before people start taking long stretches of time away from the office. That means lots of meetings, last minute customer interactions and collaborations to wind up the year.
At home: Ahhh, the potential dysfunctional interactions of family members can be enough to leave you begging for a fork to stick in your eye.
With friends: Holiday parties and drinking can leave the door wide open for all kinds of conversations; some good, some not so good.
With your significant other: And let’s not forget the people we love the most who love us the most — and who invariably end up being the brunt of our exhausted unfiltered comments.
With all of these constituencies consider giving the gift of LISTENING. It’s what people want most in the world and get the least of. The good news is — it’s actually not as hard to do as you might imagine. Here are 7 tips for listening you can start practicing today.
- Stop your inner chatter: You know that voice inside your head? Yeah, that’s the one. The one who gives the ongoing color commentary, judgement and is preparing for what to say next so that you look good and smart. Give it a rest. Honestly, that’s virtually impossible, but you can talk to your inner voice and literally command it to quiet down. When you catch the voice chattering (something like the adults in the Charley Brown cartoons, simply say “I’m not listening to you right now, someone else is talking.” And then put your full focus on the person who is speaking.
- Repeat and reflect; The best way to put your focus on the person that is speaking is to give yourself the assignment to repeat and reflect what they are saying back to them. You are going to think this is stupid and crazy and clumsy — but believe me when I tell you it TOTALLY works. It shuts the inner voice down and it helps you process what the person is saying. Here’s an example; “So, it makes you completely crazy when you try to place your order and the system shuts down in the middle of your transaction. I totally get that.”
- Take notes: Don’t be afraid or ashamed to take notes. People find that flattering and it will give your body and your brain something to do that keeps you focused on their message. Granted that might look silly at the Thanksgiving table, but it is absolutely in order with customers, friends and heavy-duty conversations.
- Give visual encouragement: Lean into the conversation. Physically. Yes. Open your eyes, look directly at the person speaking and lean in just a little bit. Imagine that they are a movie star or your favorite sports celebrity TALKING TO YOU. At that moment, this is the most important conversation that’s going on — so show it.
- Watch their body language: On the other side of the conversation – watch their body language. It’s very possible that they are saying one thing, but feeling something completely different. If you’ve ever asked someone “What’s wrong” and they’ve replied with a flat “nothing” — you KNOW what I’m talking about, This is your cue to stop and say something like — “Your words say nothing, but it looks like something has you upset. Are you ok with sharing that now, or do you want to tell me later?” Yes — be direct. It’s totally refreshing.
- Open your mind – refrain from judging: Brains are “meaning-making-machines” while someone is talking, your brain (the inner voice, too) will be analyzing words and body language and making judgements such as “I think they hate me” or something ridiculous like that. Changes are really good that — are you ready for this — IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! I know, it will look like it’s about you and they might even say your name in the middle of the tirade, but it’s probably not about you — it’s about THEM. It’s always about the person who is speaking — always. Just like it’s about YOU.
- Be the observer: All of these tips boil down to stepping outside of yourself and simply observing the entire conversation. Imagine yourself watching this conversation as if it were on a TV screen. When you practice this — you will be amazed at what you’ll notice, about yourself and about the other person.
With so many forms of communication going on — all at the same time. Listening is, by far, the best gift you can give another person. When you hone your listening skills, you’ll be amazed at how those “jerks” suddenly morph into real people with real problems that you can relate and connect with.
With the start of the holiday season, make a commitment to practice your listening skills, you’ll be blown away by how much it reduces your stress and improves your business as well.