Listening is probably the most important and least developed skill for creating strong relationships and connecting with people.
I’m reminded of the great moment in the movie Rush Hour, in which Chris Tucker’s character shouts at Jackie Chan, “Do you UNDERSTAND the WORDS that are coming out of my MOUTH???!!!” (it’s funnier when he says it), because we often fail to do just that.
The stage is set before the meeting, when you decide, out loud or quietly, to care or not to care about what the person you’re meeting has to say. How much you (pre)judge will have a huge impact on your head space as you go into the meeting. Just think of the attitude you adopt when sitting down for a conversation with a mentor versus when you sit down with a cranky customer who, you feel, complains all the time. Night and day, for most of us, in terms of how much real listening we do.
And then in the meeting itself, it starts with actually hearing the words that are coming out of the person’s mouth. What mostly gets in the way here is:
- Thinking about the last thing the person said, instead of what they’re saying right now
- Thinking about the last thing YOU said, and how you could have said it differently
- Dreaming up the next clever thing you’re going to say
- Just plain being distracted
For inspiration, remember one of the most basic techniques for remembering names when you meet someone new. When someone introduces themselves to you, you repeat their name back to them a few times. “Hi Celeste, it’s very nice to meet you Celeste.”
You not necessarily going to repeat back what people are saying (though it’s amazing how often it is appropriate to say, “So what I’m hearing you say is…..”), but you can bring that same level of attention to what the person is saying. Plus, the simple act of deciding, no matter how awkward it feels, to pay more attention will (a)Probably force you over time to get into the habit; and (b)Make the person feel like she’s being heard.
(by the way, this all applies equally well in job interviews, in first meetings, in conversations with work colleagues, with your spouse, with your children. It’s a universal skill.)
So before your next meeting, think about Rush Hour. Because having a smile on your face doesn’t hurt either…and think, “Yes, I UNDERSTAND the WORDS that are coming out of your MOUTH!!”