Listen will ya!

The written word is so much easier than real life chat because you get the added benefit of time so that there’s a certain degree of intelligibility to what one is saying.
I want to talk about the importance of listening. The classic wisdom states,
‘You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.’
When I think of that line I always think of a big cartoon head with two big sticking out ears, and a teeny weenie mouth. This I’m sure stems from an exercise that I was asked to do a few years back when I was training to be a helpline volunteer for the young person’s charity Get Connected. In groups, we were given a large A2 piece of paper and instructed to draw what an ideal helpline volunteer would look like. The most obvious characteristic was the big huge ears that everybody drew, because, well -listening is a vital quality in communication and helping others. Particularly in a situation where somebody is reaching out for help.

Listening is not that easy and it is something that a lot of people find challenging. The typical conversation would go something like this:
A: Hey, how’s things?
B: Great thanks; I just got back from Paris.
A: Oh Paris, great! I was just there a few weeks back visiting a friend.
Here’s a quick tip, try to not put an ‘I, me, my, mine’ too early into a conversation. This is not about interrogating another person, or playing 20 questions with them, but genuinely being interested in them.

I introduced a Portuguese friend of mine to twitter recently and he’s begun to see the potential networking benefits as he builds towards launching an idea on kickstarter. He’s an inventor with both a chemical and mechanical engineering background and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying, is less of a people-person than a machines-person. Here’s our gtalk exchange just last week:

The conversation is incomplete at the time of writing this, and I can assure you I was not drunk by the way! (I haven’t been for quite some time – that’s for another blog).
Right here I do not apologise for throwing in a Dale Carnegie quote from the classic man’s classic.

‘You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.’

As I am writing this, a real life example happens, as a colleague of mine is meeting me and he’s with a friend who I am introduced to. The friend asks me, ‘What are you writing?’ I say, ‘It’s a blog article.’ He says, ‘What’s it about?’ ‘It’s on leadership topics’, I reply. I then ask, ‘Do you do any writing?’ and he then goes on to tell me about how he recently did a scriptwriting course and so on.
It is so easy for us to get caught up in our own endeavours and talk about the one thing that that is most familiar to all of us, ourselves. This listening stuff, it’s a discipline, it’s a habit that we can develop and it’s a skill of sorts. We don’t want to come across as stupid to other people in a social situation, so very often while another person is talking we are thinking of what we can say next, and jumping around inside waiting for the right moment to say it. Often if we just actually listen, truly listen, then we can have a better and deeper understanding of what the other person is saying and begin to ask those all important questions. There’s a fantastic song by the Swedish group Roxette called Listen to your heart. I’m going to switch that song title around a little and say Listen WITH your heart.

When a conversation becomes a bit one sided, that is what you want to achieve because we are givers right? We want others to feel special right? Les Giblin in his magical little book, ‘Skill With People’, says:
‘Refusal to listen to people is just about the surest way of making them feel unimportant and of rating them as a nobody. Listening to them is just about the best way of making them feel important.’
(There are a few other magical magical powerful points he makes too, which I’ll share with you if you send me an email 10leadersleaping (at) g mail)
We can all be ‘experts’ with people by mastering this simple step and people will be left thinking what a lovely person you are, and YOU ARE! I’ll leave you with the beauty of Sylvia Plath’s words, which I came across on twitter. I certainly couldn’t say it better.