“You only learn when you’re listening.”
– My Grandfather
Yes, my grandfather really said that to me – many times. In my case, it probably had to be said many times because Grandpa could clearly see that I figured I knew every damn thing there was to know already.
Took me quite awhile to actually hear what he was saying. Far too long.
A couple of posts back we discussed the importance of strong visual communications, since they are, by far, the longest-retained source of information that’s jammed into our brains. Yet what about verbal* communications? Don’t we talk to each other on an almost continual basis during our waking hours? Yup. Then why do we retain only about 10% of what we hear just a couple of days later?
Maybe many of us are just lousy at listening; and this thought prompted some research…
Stephen Covey, author of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, stated: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
(Hmmm. Probably some truth to that, if one is being honest. We’ve no doubt all had someone respond to us, or responded ourselves, with: “That reminds me of the time…”)
Then there’s Ed Brodow, speaker, author and renowned negotiations consultant, who highlights the critical importance of listening. He believes we hear mostly what we want to hear, not what the other person is trying to communicate to us.
Early in his career, as a door-to-door salesman in a tough part of Manhattan, he learned that “the key to success in selling – as it is in negotiating – is keeping your mouth shut and listening to what people have to say.” “Making flowery presentations“ would get him thrown out of a potential sale, but if he let the people tell him what their problems were, they would buy almost anything.
Ed’s basic tips for listening are:
- Develop the desire to listen
- Always let the other person do most of the talking
- Don’t interrupt
- Learn active listening – let the other person see you’re hearing their every word (through eye contact, posture, etc.)
- Ask for clarification if needed
- Listen for “nonverbal” messages (body language, voice inflection)
- Ask a question… then shut up
And then there’s what may be the most famous self-help book of all time, Dale Carnegie’s How to Make Friends and Influence People. Originally published in 1936, and updated numerous times since, the book was originally aimed at helping sales people succeed. Two of the book’s sections are titled: “Ways to Make People Like You,” and “How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking.” Key points in these are:
- Become genuinely interested in people
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves
- Let the other person do a great deal of the talking
I decided to do a little “self evaluation” on some of these items, and, ironically, was invited to attend an informal dinner gathering at a friend’s house the very day these deep thoughts started to flow. The dinner attendees came from a wide range of professions, and included a nurse, an accountant, a teacher, an HR director and… a priest. (Just realized how much this sounds like the classic intro to an off-color joke: “So an accountant, a teacher and a priest are sittin’ in a bar one afternoon…” Ha.)
I’d decided to do my best to try to learn even more about each of the other people than I already knew, by intently focusing on what they were saying, and asking sincere questions. There certainly were times when someone was answering that I found myself thinking of what my own response would be, as well as a few times an unintended interruption needed to be stifled – but for the most part, it was successful. It just wasn’t as as easy as I thought it would be to strictly “follow the rules.” It was a great exercise and reminder, though.
So why does any of this relate, since only a percentage of us are actually “salespeople”?
In truth, we’re all in sales: selling ourselves to our spouses, loved ones, friends, neighbors, employers, clients, people we’re buying things from, want or need things from – for the purpose of creating “win-win” scenarios. Having people on your side, willing to work with you – and also to teach you – is key to success in almost anything we do.
Thanks for listening.
*Side note: “Verbal” communications should certainly include emails. How many of us breeze through them at times, completely missing some of the pertinent points and details?
Ryan Barto 11/02/2017
Killing it here, Bob. My father gave me a laminated list of Dale Carnegie principles that he had when he was working and I keep them taped on the backing board of my desk at home. His famous line growing up was, “You’re always selling yourself”. Listening and observing are greatly underrated personal traits that have a positive impact on just about any relationship or interaction. I’m digging this blog.
Bob 11/03/2017 — Post Author
Thanks. Having heard about your dad’s successes – both professionally and personally – it’s obvious he practiced what he preached. And it worked…big time.
Amanda Rockhold 11/08/2017
Listening. What a vital way to develop trust, friendship and understanding. Very insightful post. Thank you!