Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mackay: To be heard, remember how to listen

Few things are more frustrating than having to repeat yourself because the person you are speaking to isn't listening. It wastes time - and time, as we all know, is money.

Perhaps a little further up the annoyance scale is the exchange, I hesitate to call it a conversation, in which both parties are so determined to get their own points across that they have little regard for what the other is saying. When everyone is talking at the same time, or planning their next remarks instead of listening and responding, the result is never positive. It demonstrates a real lack of respect for the speaker and the message.

As I've said so many times before, we have two ears and one mouth, which I interpret as a clue that we should listen twice as much as we talk.

My friend Bob Dilenschneider, CEO of the Dilenschneider Group in New York City, who makes his living helping corporations communicate globally, is very concerned about the "lost art" of listening.

"Sadly, the current state of the nation's political discourse underscores how much has been forgotten or neglected about the art of listening," he wrote to me. "We feel the need to cast a light on this topic because of the rising din in public and private discourse - and the fading prospect the decibel level will ratchet lower.

"Everyone seems to be shouting, declaiming and clamoring; few appear to be listening. The chasm between hearing and truly listening grows ever wide. What has followed, inevitably, is anger, misunderstanding, frustration and, too often, gridlock and dysfunctional government," he said.

Dilenschneider attributes a good part of the problem to the age in which we live: "The problem is pervasive in modern society. Many of us don't listen because we're too busy talking, texting, blogging and using Twitter and Facebook. . . . Because most people have gotten used to talking without listening to their adversaries, and even their allies, this tendency to transmit rather than receive has become the hallmark of the cyber-era."

Is this a dismissal of the importance of social media? Hardly. We love the freedom, the flexibility and the efficiency.

But when the result is a lost ability to effectively communicate because we can't define the tone of the communication or don't agree with the sender, our listening skills go into lockdown mode. With the competition for an audience so fierce, the messages get louder and louder. Is anyone listening?

I would submit that to get people to listen to you, you must first demonstrate that you are a good listener. Learning - or relearning - good listening skills starts with a few basic concepts, which Dilenschneider shared with me. With his permission, I will share them with you.

- Avoid passing judgment. I agree with him that we are often so eager to make our own point that we stop listening to others' points of view. I have found that if I listen carefully, there are often many points of agreement. Even more often, I learn something new that enables me to reconsider or reinforce my opinion.

- Be patient. He warns against interrupting. Let the other party finish before you jump in. When you violate this rule, you run the risk of making the speaker defensive and inadvertently give permission for others to interrupt you.

- Pay attention. How simple is this idea - and how often is this advice ignored. He reminds us that noisy restaurants or street corners are tough places to hold a discussion. I would add the cellphone and other gadgets that are constant attention-grabbers to the list of distractions.

- Ask. If you are confused about what is being said, just ask for clarification. What you thought you heard might not be what the speaker meant. Allow the speaker to explain.

- Listen at different levels. Be aware of body language. Words don't always tell the whole story. Actions often do speak louder than words.

Will improved listening skills solve every problem? Of course not. But you will solve one problem right up-front: establishing a level of respect that will set the tone for the rest of the discussion.

Mackay's Moral: If you want to be heard, you must know how to listen.

by Harvey Mackay June 27, 2011




Mackay: To be heard, remember how to listen

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