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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

12 Effective Listening

Effective listening habits are essential to developing respect from your workers and to being able to sell your ideas to anyone. This lecture describes why and suggests how to practice effective listening.
Steven Covey’s book “The 7 Basic Habits of Highly Effective People” describes habits that characterize highly effective people and leaders that build trust in their organizations. I only address habit 5 from the book, which I have found especially valuable in my personal and management experience. I am going to touch lightly on two topics related to that habit. Please get a copy of Covey’s book and read more. At the very least study the two topics I address here in more detail.
The first topic is what Covey calls empathetic listening. The sad fact is that most of us aren't good listeners. We hear just enough to formulate a response then wait impatiently to get the opening to give our response. We do this with our co-workers, customers, spouses, children and friends. Only our children are honest enough to say “you don’t listen to me”. When they say this it’s because we haven’t been empathetic listeners. I’ll try to explain what Covey means. To be an empathetic listener you need to project yourself into the speaker’s situation and try to understand why they are saying what they are saying. It means feeding back your understanding of what they said. For example, by saying “do you mean to say that …….” This shows the speaker that you are listening and trying to understand. With our children we often respond without listening because “we have been there”. We need to stop and realize that our children don’t know that. When we respond too quickly they just know that we really didn't listen to them. Unfortunately we tend to do the same thing with customers and with our co-workers, bosses and subordinates. They are just too polite to tell us we aren't listening but they feel it just like our kids.
Human nature says that if someone isn't listening to me then there is no reason I should listen to them. This is what Covey is getting at. If you wish to communicate effectively to someone; your customer, your kid or your worker, you must first convince them that you understand their situation, their concerns and their desires. If they aren't convinced you understand then they are not going to listen to your logic any better than you listened to theirs.
That brings us to the second topic related to the habit. In our work we are often in a “marketing” mode. We are trying to convince someone of our point of view. Covey says to be an effective salesperson of our point of view we have to satisfy three criteria. First, we have to establish our credibility.  This means we have to give the person we are marketing to a reason why they should listen to us. It may be because of our position, e.g. as a parent or a boss. If it isn't obvious then we have to establish it. When we meet new people in our business world there is a ritual that we go through. We exchange business cards and discuss something about ourselves to connect with each other. When you are in this situation think about what you can say that will convince others they should listen to you. It may be your position, your background, your work on some topic of interest to them or your acquaintance with someone you know they admire. Covey’s message is that until you have established your credibility as someone that should be listened to others aren't likely to really listen to you or consider you logic.
The second criterion that Covey says we must satisfy is empathetic listening. The targets of our marketing must be convinced that we understand their situation and their problems before they will listen to our logical arguments. Once we have convinced them we understand their problems then they will listen to us.
Remember the sequence: credibility, empathetic listening, and then your logical arguments. To be an effective leader you must be an effective communicator and to be an effective communicator you must follow the three steps defined by Covey. It is fundamental human nature and you can’t get around it no matter how much of a hurry you are in or how good of a salesperson you think you are.
The hard part of practicing Covey’s habit 5 is the emphatic listening. It’s crucial that you learn this skill. If you have children five years old or older they give you the perfect opportunity to start practicing. I guarantee you the rewards are worth the effort with your children. If you don’t have children then commit to listening better to your spouse and/or your friends. You must make this a habit so that it becomes second nature and you do it as a matter of course in your work environment.
Start today. Truly listen to others and only respond with your arguments when you are convinced they know you have understood what they were saying. At the end of a conversation review how you listened and rehearse how you should have listened if you didn't meet your expectations. Now practice this habit every day in every situation. You will be amazed at the results. If you find that you are not practicing enough write reminders on 3 x 5 cards and place them where you will encounter them during your day, e.g. in your bathroom, in your briefcase, on your desk, etc. Leave the cards in place for at least a week, then remove them and see if you can remember without them. If not put them back for another week.

If you find that the pace of blog posts isn’t compatible with the pace you  would like to maintain in studying this material you can buy the book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership” at:
or hard copy or for nook at:
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