Received wisdom says that since the Lord gave you two ears and one mouth, one should use them in that proportion.
93% of people rate themselves as good listeners while only 13% of people rate other people as good listeners. (Okay, I made that up, but you know what I mean :-) )
We are never taught how to listen; certainly where I came from the only advice I ever got was to “shut up and listen”.
In communications-speak, real listening skills are referred to as 'Active Listening'. It is not an exaggeration to put active listening at the top of the list of desirable interpersonal skills.
The following five techniques to improve active listening may seem obvious, but it requires practice in order to become skilled at it. We advise in our training that one should master them one technique at a time. As you master each successive technique it becomes ingrained surprisingly quickly.
- Beware of personal bias
As with most facets of personal development, the vital first principle is always one of self-awareness. Even if you do not like the person’s general approach, focus your own attention on becoming aware of your own moods/feelings when you are approached by certain people. (Jot down how you felt at the first moment of contact with every single person after they have left. You only have to do this for a day or two and you will notice a pattern – and be able to keep doing it without having to write it down.)
- Listen to the words a person is saying as well as how those words are being said.
Focus on tone of voice and body language; consciously listening with your heart, your eyes and your ears. Simply identify one body language movement or one inflection of the voice in every conversation and attempt to understand how that supported or contradicted what was actually said. Soon you will be able to pick up multiple signals.
- Focus on the speaker
Do not look at other customers, and employees, avoid fiddling with your phones, books, your hair whatever. Concentrate on standing absolutely still. Don’t sit down, don’t stand up don’t put your coffee down, don’t reach for your smokes. Make and maintain eye-contact.
- Do not interrupt or change the subject
It is just as rude to step on someone thoughts as it is to step on their toes! Suppress whatever urges you may have to correct someone – however obvious their error. More often than not the ranting IS the purpose – and not necessarily any rational solution.
- Ask questions to clarify
The last technique actually involves speaking, but the trick is NOT to answer any concerns or address any problems, but to ask questions. Not any type of question (like why this, when that). Simply paraphrase what you have heard in a question.
All of these techniques work because we use our free mental time. We think 3- 4 times faster than people speak so it possible to hear the words AND interpret the body language; it is possible to hear the message AND think about your own mental attitude.
Good listening skills are not only at the core of great customer service, it is at the heart of building effective personal relationships.
It just takes practice.