“Raise your arm if you believe you are a better than average listener?”
“Keep your arm raised if anyone has said, “Thank you for listening”, in the last two weeks.
I ask these two questions at the beginning of a workshop and usually, everyone raises their arm to the first question, and the majority of attendees take them down in response to the second question.
Why might this be?
Primarily, we make the mistake of believing that listening and hearing is the same thing. In addition, living in a fast-paced, multi distracting society, we feel we have little or no time to be fully present enough to deeply listen to another person.
A typical response is that listening and hearing is the same thing. Unless you are audibly impaired we can all hear, yet only a few choose to listen.
Hearing is passive, it is an ability, it happens without our thinking. For example, someone calls your name out across a noisy room, you hear it, a train passes whilst you are sleeping, you hear it until you get used to it. We hear everything
Listening is active; it is a skill, even though it looks like you’re not doing anything. You have to decide to listen, to pay attention; you have to be a listener. Research shows that when speakers feel they are being heard, they are more likely to like and trust them.
One of the simple ways I choose to remember the difference is, “We hear from”, and, “We listen to”.
“We hear from”, means we don’t have to do anything to hear them.
“We listen to”, means we have to choose to listen to the person speaking.
Next time you are walking in the park, stop and intend to notice the various sounds coming at you, maybe an aeroplane, children laughing, people talking, cars passing by, road works, music playing, and so on. Then, notice that you had not taken any notice of these sounds until you turned your attention to them. Yet they were always there, our brain had filtered them out as not important. Now, whilst paying these sounds your full attention, try to send someone a text message. Notice how your mind has to focus on one or the other, and how difficult it is to focus on both things at the same time.
How many times do we tune out, barely even hearing, let alone listening, to our work colleague, our partner, and our children? How many times do we try to listen to more than one thing or one person?
Take this new awareness into the workplace and your home life, and set your intention to focus on being more fully present, noticing more sounds, remaining silent and letting the other person talk.
His gestures were few. But the attention he gave me, his appreciation of what I said, even when I said it badly, was extraordinary. You’ve no idea what it meant to be listened to like that.
– Dale Carnegie, author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People”