The Art of Listening

This week a friend emailed me a link to a video, It’s Not About the Nail.   It is not only funny but it says everything that Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus says in two humorous minutes.

What I like about this video is that it also shows how the particular ways men and women approach problems causes both sexes to forget to listen.  He doesn’t listen to her feelings or her needs and she doesn’t listen to a solution (in this case, a good one).

I came to the Art of Listening relatively late in life.  Twenty-five years ago, I would have told you I was an excellent communicator but what I was really great at was convincing others to do things my way, often heavy-handedly and without listening to what they had to say.   Then two things happened.  In 1993 I began attending 12-Step meetings.  In those meetings, I had three minutes to speak … the rest of the time, I had to listen.  The truth is, early on, I didn’t.  I spent the time others were sharing thinking about what I would say.  Another wrinkle in the process: when I did get to talk, I was not supposed to talk directly to anyone else or respond directly to what they said.  That would be crosstalk.  Big no-no.  Gradually, a strange thing happened.  I discovered everyone had something to say and often something enlightening came from an unexpected source.  I also learned that I didn’t have to contest things I disagreed with.   Six years later, I retired from Big Industry and became a consultant/expert.  Frequently, I would be required to walk into a meeting at a clients facilty filled with people who did not want me there.  To their way of thinking I was an outsider getting paid lots of money to solve a problem they could solve themselves.   My time in 12-Step meetings served me well.  I learned to keep a low profile at first, to listen to what others had to say.   I tried to find common ground before speaking, even if my approach to their problem was very different than what others were considering.  I kept my mouth shut until asked my opinion.  I have always had a sense of humor, so I tried to see the funny side of things.  Humor is disarming.  But mostly, I listened, and as in my 12-Step meetings, I discovered that I could learn from them, too, and when I served as a facilitator to lead us to a solution, whether it was mine or not, my clients began to want me in the room.

I learned my listening skills the hard way, in the School of Hard Knocks.  However, there are many good sources, in books and online, about how to listen better.  A  post on skillsyouneed.com titled Listening Skills says that the average person spends 70% of their time communicating, 45% of which is spent listening and 30% speaking.  The article offers Ten Principles of Listening, including Stop Talking, Put the Speaker at Ease and Listen for Ideas.  The hardest for me was number 6 … Be Patient … under a deadline, I just want to get things done and the best way to do that was to do it my way.   In order to be patient I had to accept that I might not (gasp) be right and that the goal was to find the best solution not my best solution.  That was a very large but healthy pill to swallow.   The thing about listening, though, is reading about it doesn’t take you anywhere … you have to try it and see how it changes things.

So, how are you at the Art of Listening?  I invite you to tell me in my comments section.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pull a nail out of my wife’s forehead.

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