Listening is Free

I’m not sure if anyone has noticed but the world, yep, not only the US but the entire world seems divided right now. Never in my lifetime has the divide between different groups of people been wider.

Even in times of World Wars the divide was not as great as it is right now. Even during the World Wars people agreed on more things than they do today. Governments started those wars, not the people of the countries that were dragged into them.

But today is different. The universal language is one of hate. We throw the word hate around as if it almost has no real meaning. People claim to hate people who hate. “We” all hate all the hating going on these days.

We make slogans and signs about who and what matters. We talk about what must change and who must change. I’m struck by the number of people who “demand” immediate change yet refuse to look in the mirror to see if there is any change they could make personally.

Abraham Lincoln is famous for saying many things but one thing he said might be more applicable today than even the day he said it. When commenting on someone he was not particularly fond of he said, “I do not like that man. I need to get to know him better.”

Lincoln knew what too many people today seemingly have forgotten. That is that we human beings have far more in common than we give ourselves credit for. We can focus on the things that draw us together or we can focus on the things the push us apart. That’s a choice.

But that won’t happen until we do something else that seems to be a thing of the past.

That “thing” is called listening.

I mean real listening. Not reading someone’s social media posts. Not hearing some filtered version of what somebody thinks or what someone said someone said someone said. It’s a sad commentary on the world we live in but if you didn’t hear someone say it yourself then you might want to have some doubts about whether or not it was actually said.

Plus…don’t only listen to people who agree with you! Invite conversations with people who have vastly different views and life experiences than you. Do not think them wrong simply because their views are different than yours. Don’t talk to them, talk with them to determine where your views overlap. Build on that overlap!

I take great comfort from talking with people who share my views and beliefs. I like talking to my family and friends. But whatever growth I experience at this point in life comes from talking with people who frankly might not be my first choice to talk with.

You and I do not have to like the people who see the world differently than we do but we do need to understand how they view their life. We need to understand that if our life experiences were identical to theirs that our views would likely be identical too.

Most of all we need to get to know them better. The more we know about people the less chance there will be that we judge them. I want to say that again….the more you know about someone the less chance there is that you will judge them.

Listen more. Listen with your heart and your mind WIDE open. Listening is free but it just might be that it liberates you from hate. Listening is one of those things that while free it is also priceless!

Listening, really listening to different views could save you great pain. It could save your Country severe turmoil. Listening, truly truly listening to one another might even save the world.

Are you Determined to Learn?

If you’re not willing to learn then no one can help you. If however you are determined to learn then no one can stop you. Learning is a choice. The decision to improve your lot in life through education is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. I have never met a very successful person who hasn’t at some point in their life made the decision to learn.

Learning doesn’t stop at the end of the school year and it shouldn’t stop when you’re handed a degree. It’s never been easier to learn. If you’re a bit careful where you look there is a wealth of great learning opportunities to be found on the internet.

There isn’t anyone alive you can’t learn from. Heck, thanks to that same internet you can even learn from dead people. Everyone you meet can teach you something.

People who you wouldn’t normally hang out with can teach you something. People who look and sound different than you also know things that you don’t. If you’re willing to push the limits of your comfort zone a bit and take a chance you can learn from them too.

Think for a moment about your typical conversations with people. Are you doing most of the talking? Are you talking mostly about yourself? Are you asking questions about the other person and what’s new with them?

Most people don’t ask enough questions. I suppose that’s because they don’t want to look or sound dumb. Successful people know that a person who asks what may seem to be an ill informed question might sound dumb for a moment. But the person who is too embarrassed to even ask remains ill informed for a long long time.

You’ll never learn a thing by talking to someone. What you can learn from them is limitless if only you’ll listen to them. So ask three people who know you well what you can do to be a better listener. Then DO what they tell you. You don’t have to agree with them, you do however have to follow their advice. At least if you want to be a better listener.

When a person decides that they will never stop learning their potential grows right along with their knowledge bank. But learning begins with the decision to try. If you think you already know enough then you’re really no better off than the person who thinks they know it all.

And this much we all know….no one likes a know it all.

Effective Communication Begins with You

I will occasionally have someone ask me about what to do with a person who won’t listen. My answer is always some variation of “I don’t know, I’ve never met someone who wouldn’t listen.” 

 

Their reaction is most often a combination of surprise, disappointment and frustration. They don’t believe I don’t know people who won’t listen. They are disappointed I can’t help and they are frustrated because they think I’m playing games with them.

 

But the truth is I have never met anyone who wouldn’t listen. I have however met some people who I couldn’t motivate to listen. Their failure to listen is on me, not them. I didn’t say anything worth listening to, at least from their point of view. 

 

You may not be willing to accept responsibility for the other person’s desire to listen and that’s fine…so long as you do not consider yourself to be a leader. But if you think of yourself as a leader then you must lead. That includes engaging people in conversation that they find meaningful. So meaningful that it motivates them to listen. 

 

To motivate others to listen you must first stop talking. Put yourself in their position and think about what is important to them. When you do talk make sure you talk in terms of the other person’s interests. Give them a reason to listen. Find a way to make your point while showing them that there is something for them in your point as well. 

 

Yes, that takes effort, and thought, but I’ll tell you without a doubt that talking without thinking is not real communication. It is certainty not effective communication. 

 

Look at the person you’re speaking with. Notice I didn’t say speaking to…I said speaking with. Great communicators don’t talk at or to people. They speak with them. Ditch your phone, notepad, tablet or whatever else may distract you from truly listening to them. That’s vital because the moment they sense a lack of listening on your part is about the same moment they no longer feel compelled to listen to you. 

 

On a side note, some of you will say taking notes is how you “listen.” There are times when taking notes is necessary but those are few and far between. Few people are exceptional at listening while taking notes. You miss what’s being said while you’re writing down what was said earlier. Make some quick notes after the conversation if need be but don’t kid yourself into believing you’re not missing something while you’re writing.

 

Don’t interrupt someone if you want them to listen to you. Interrupting someone mid-sentence is a sure sign that you’re not really listening. Most people, and yes I mean most, most people listen in order to respond and not to understand what is being said. If you’re interrupting people you’re likely in that “most” group. 

 

Linger on the words of the person speaking until you‘re sure what was said and meant. Only then should you begin speaking again.

 

Have you noticed yet that this post on being a better communicator has a strong focus on listening. Don’t make the incredibly common mistake of thinking communicating is only about talking. If you’re not listening intently to what the other person is saying then you may be in a two-sided monologue but you’re not in a conversation. 

 

The best communicators I know listen far more than they talk. You really get the feeling that when they do talk you had better be paying attention because you don’t want to miss it. 

 

I personally feel comfortable telling someone I’m a good speaker. I can’t honestly always rate myself that well when I take out the word speaker and replace it with communicator. But the fact that I know the difference between speaking and communicating at least gives me a chance to improve. 


As always I remain a work in progress. How about you?

The Value of Being Interested in Others

It’s the kiss of death in sales, and it’s the kiss of death in networking. It is pretty much the kiss of death whenever we are trying to build a relationship. It’s when we talk too much. 

 

Often, in our desire to tell everything we know, we go on and on without letting the other person participate in the discussion. The truth is, if you’re doing most of the talking, you’re not as successful as you could be in your sales career. Your likely not as successful as you could be in life either. 

 

Here’s an idea to try. This week pay particular attention to the amount of time you spend talking versus the amount of time you spend listening. It makes no difference if your conversation is in person or on the phone. It makes no difference if it’s a work conversation or you’re talking with a friend. After each conversation make note of the percentage of time you spoke — and the percentage of the time the other person spoke. This is just for you so be brutally honest.

     

If you find yourself dominating the discussion, make a conscious effort to listen more and talk less. In a sales conversation you should be letting your customer do about 70% of the talking. In a personal conversation aim for at least a 50-50 split. 

 

In either case remember that when you’re talking you’re only repeating what you already know. When you’re listening you have the chance to learn something new. 

 

As a salesperson when you let others speak, you’ll discover your customer’s wants and needs. Your sales presentations will be more on target and others will feel that you are knowledgeable and competent. Most important, you’ll make more sales.

 

Dale Carnegie said that we can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than we can in two years by trying to get people interested in us. 


One of the fastest ways to demonstrate your interest in other people is to listen to them. Really, really listen. Put down the phone, focus on them, make them feel that they are the most important person in the world. After all, in the moment they are talking with you, they are. 

Old Advice

Someone asked me a few day ago how I write this blog, they wondered if I had a bunch of posts “in progress” that were partially written that I selected from when I needed a post and had no fresh ideas.

 

Well, that’s is sometimes the case. I most often write early in the morning and once I start a post I usually finish it in one sitting. Sometimes I write when something makes me mad, those posts are often left unfinished and are seldom published. (I know there are lots of people who would like to see those posts but I don’t think so, perhaps I’ll save those for the book I might never write)

 

This particular post is one of those “mad” posts but I’m most certainly going to finish it and I’m definitely going to publish it… I owe it to the limited thinkers who made me mad in the first place. So here we go…

 

Ordinarily I’d say doing something a particular way just because it’s always been done that way is a terrible reason for doing it. Continually repeating a process “just because” indicates lazy thinking and can result in inferior results. I frequently tell people that just because something isn’t broke doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. 

 

The most successful people are always on the lookout for a better way of doing most everything. 

 

But every once in a while there isn’t a better way. Doing something the same way over a long period of time turns out to be the best way to do it. If you’ve seriously considered alternatives to the way you’re doing something today and found those alternatives to be lacking then don’t be afraid to stick with the status quo. But don’t quit looking either.

 

As leery as I am when I hear someone say “we’ve always done it way” I’m just as troubled when I hear someone say “we’re changing because it just seems like it’s time for a change.”

 

We’re changing because it’s time for a change is a horrible reason to change. You might just as well buy lottery tickets because your chances for success are about the same. Change for the sake of change indicates the same lazy level of thinking as “we’ve always done it that way.” 

 

You have no idea if the change is in the right direction, you’ve likely invested very little time in considering why it is being done the way it is and even less time considering the consequences and expense associated with the change. If the change works out you just got lucky and if you’re counting on luck then don’t count on much success.

 

Which brings me to the reason for this post. In trying to help someone understand why something was done the way it was done it was hinted to me that my “old advice” was of no use anymore. 

 

The person seemed to indicate that experience was in fact a handicap and advice stemming from experience should be discounted or just outright ignored. 

 

Wisdom doesn’t always come with experience; sometimes experience just shows up alone…. but not very often. Failing to use another person’s experience is an unforced error. It’s costly, it slows down progress and it’s just not very smart. Smart people learn from their mistakes, the smartest people learn from the mistakes of others.


If you choose to ignore the experience of those who have gone before you then you do so at your own peril, and let there be no doubt, it is perilous indeed.

Leaders Listen

Most of us, myself included, tend to take the ability to hear for granted. We also too often confuse the ability to hear with the ability to listen.

Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences.

The best leaders listen. They are always listening. They even listen to things that they would just as soon not hear. 

Leaders make themselves available to hear the “noise” in their organizations because that’s like inside information.

Weak leaders try to silence the noise, better leaders encourage it and find a way to turn even negative noise into useful information. Think about it, would you as a leader rather pretend all is well or would you rather know where your opportunities for improvement might be?

When you listen, really really listen, you will likely hear some things you wish you hadn’t. You may even hear some stuff that isn’t true. You must also realize that part of your role as a leader requires that you have the ability to sort the good information from the not so good. (A bit of an aside here but as a leader you also do have a responsibility to stop untruths from being spread)

Authentic Servant Leaders know that good listening is the beginning of great ideas so they listen at every level of their organization. 

They also listen with more than their ears. They “listen” with their eyes to determine if what they are hearing matches with what they are seeing. They “listen” with their heart as well to determine the level of emotion attached to what was said. 

Authentic Servant Leaders understand that communication is a participative endeavor and that actually communicating requires them to listen more than they talk. 

If you’re a true leader then you certainly know that you still have much to learn. Hopefully then you also know that you’ll learn more in a few minutes of listening then you’ll learn in hours of talking. 

So listen up. Listen to what was said, listen to how it was said, listen to when it was said, and listen to whoever said it. 

You’ll never know where your next learning opportunity will come from unless you’re always listening. Anyone can teach everyone something and that means as a leader you should invest the time to hear from all of your people. 

Did you hear that?

How to Grow Yourself

Generally speaking I like people. My challenge is that I like some people more than others. 

The people I like most are the ones who are most like me. They think like me, they have the same interests and hobbies as me and they even sort of look like and talk like me. 

But I also have this almost insatiable need to learn and to grow, to be challenged and to push myself. As much as I love being around people who are just like me I don’t learn that much from them. They seldom challenge my thinking and they rarely cause me to change my opinion. 

So I force myself to talk with people who I disagree with. I read the darnedest stuff written by people who are clearly off the wall with their thinking. I listen to people who are obviously wrong.

Except sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes the people who I disagree with are right. Once in a while that off the wall “junk” is invaluable in helping me see another point of view, and sometimes it’s me who is wrong. (Just to be clear, that doesn’t happen often but sometimes…)

I’d never know any of that if I just hung around people who were just like me. 

My friends and family, who I truly cherish, provide me with a stable, supportive, and caring environment which I and every other human on the planet absolutely needs. But our “group think” does little to help any of us grow.

It’s the people who wouldn’t be my first choice to spend lots of time with, the people who come from different and varying backgrounds, even the people who I outright dislike that frequently help me grow the most. 

IF I’m willing to listen and IF I’m willing to change. 

Those two “if’s” are often the biggest challenge most of us face on the journey to reach our full potential. If you’re willing to listen, to consider that you could be wrong, to believe it’s possible that someone has a better way of doing something, then you have a chance to truly grow. 

Of course, I could be wrong about all of this.