BE THE BEST LISTENER IN THE ROOM
Updated: Feb 24, 2019
I honestly think speaking is fast becoming a malady of our nation.
People talk way too much.
On social media they talk too much, on messaging platforms they speak too much, on phones and in meetings people speak too much.
Broadcast mode is dialled up to maximum.
And it’s not just the volume of talk, it’s what we’re talking about that’s alarming. 60% of what we talk about is ourselves, and that zooms up to 80% when chatting on social media. When we talk about ourselves, our brains release dopamine, immediately rewarding us. So, we get high on our own chat. And then addicted to that high and so the perpetual cycle of chat begins.
Being ‘loquacious’ is the technical term for this excessive speaking. It comes from the root Latin verb meaning loqui, of which ventriloquist also descends – which as you probably know, means to produce speech sounds from within one’s body (as in a spirit possession!). Oh my, this explains an awful lot.
But getting back to the main point – we are drowning in talk. This is partly due to the fact that as a nation we are encouraged to speak up. This is a wonderfully positive thing. Giving everyone a voice and a right to use that voice is the bedrock of our society. But in our obsession with having a purpose and being more self-assured, we’ve fallen into a trap where we fill time with words.
And hey, what happens when we talk too much? We don’t listen. And when we don’t listen, we miss important messages. Not only this, relationships can suffer; have you ever noticed how you feel when someone is clearly not interested in what you have to say? It’s also possible to suffer overstimulation and what’s called ‘aural overload’ resulting in anxiety. And in business, productivity can be lower as a result of too much talking, not enough listening and not enough action.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to talk. I’ll happily talk to anyone, and probably far too much. But what I have been acutely aware of as I’ve become a coach is the power of shutting up and the brilliance of listening. I’m still practicing, but in doing so, I increasingly notice how unbelievably bad people are at listening.
Of course, listening isn’t just hearing. It’s listening to what someone is saying and HOW they say it. When you do this, you can pick up information that’s conveyed in body language, eye movements, facial expression, skin tone, energy and language. As well as taking in all this information you can build better rapport with people, undoubtedly learn more and positively influence the outcome of the conversation you are in.
However, and this is super important: beware the trap of not speaking but not listening either! In this situation, it’s highly likely that your internal voice is rattling off your own thoughts and judgements that take you away from the importance of the conversation you are in.
Business people are possibly the worst offenders at talking too much, with the average office meeting being the scene of the crime. You’ve got the ‘speak over you’ types who are grrrr, well annoying. You have the ‘speak louder than everyone else’ types and the ‘this is how it is’ types and then ‘repeat myself over and over’ types and of course the ‘I’m going to tell you everything I know and hope something sticks’ types and, worst of all, the ‘wangers on, who just love the sound of their own voice’ types.
I’m being a bit mean here to make this important point: We all need to speak less and listen more.
One of the most powerful things I’ve learnt from coaching is that when we fill silences and speak, we prevent the other person from thinking. How many people do you know that ask a question and promptly answer it too? Or speak without sufficient time for the other person to gather their thoughts? Observe it next time you have a conversation. This stops people from finding their own thoughts and ideas, ultimately creating a situation where you missed important feedback and perhaps limited the possibility of a better outcome – for you or the person you are in dialogue with.
Better listening isn’t about being silent and not talking at all, it’s about talking less and listening more.
Listening is a skill that requires practice. Here’s how you can practice less talking and better listening:
Remove the tech distractions
Make eye contact and be truly present in the conversation or meeting. If you’re tapping on a keyboard or looking at your device, there ain’t no way you are listening with your eyes and your ears
Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply
When your mind is focussing on what to say next, it’s not listening to what’s being said. Listen more than you speak – aim for a ratio of 2:1.
Literally ‘hold your tongue’
When our internal voice is active, our tongues are actually making micro movements in our mouths. By forcing our tongues to stay still (bite it or touch the roof of your mouth) we force our internal voice to switch off and we listen better.
Notice non-verbal messages
How are body language and facial expressions congruent with what is being said? What else is going on that can help you understand the person or subject better?
Practice speaking more concisely
Imagine what you are saying fitting onto a post-it-note. Summarise your point and don’t feel the need to go over and over it again. Observe how differently people react to you, and how confident you appear.
So, if you practice those 5 things you will immediately become a much better listener. It’s far more rewarding to listen than talk and hopefully you’ll start to get dopamine releases when you listen and become addicted to that instead! If you follow the principle of ‘we need to be doing fewer things better’ and apply this to speaking, then that’s a great rule of mouth.
I’ll shut up now. But I would love to listen to what you think.