Listening Days

I speak often on the importance of listening well. I believe that listening well is every bit as important to communication as speaking well. Many would say listening is even more important because listening informs us about how we should speak if we want to be listened to. 

Considering how important I believe listening is you might get the idea that I’m a very good listener. I’m likely better than average but I have a long way to go before I can say “very good.”

But I’m working on it. 

Before you decide that you’re a “good enough” listener you must realize what that means. “Good enough” means you’re settling for something that likely isn’t very good. It also means that it is possible you’re not willing to put in the effort required to be better. Sadly, it means you’re content going through life not really knowing and understanding what is happening around you. It means you’ll become involved in arguments because you missed the intent of a person’s words.

In short, being a “good enough” listener means you’re missing a whole bunch of life. 

But you can work on being better too. 

Your journey to listening better begins by admitting you can be a better listener. Being a better listener requires that we understand hearing is a passive activity and listening is an intentional one. Listening well requires focus. It requires that we linger on the words being spoken to us long enough to understand their meaning and intent. 

Listening well requires that we indeed listen to understand rather than listening to respond. It requires that we acknowledge that we can’t listen and talk at the same time. We can’t even listen and think about our response at the same time. We can’t listen and be fiddling with our phones at the same time. We can’t listen to someone and watch TV at the same time. 

Do you see a pattern here yet? You can’t do anything else and be focused on listening well.

If you think you can then I’m sorry to say you’re not being honest with yourself. 

I’ve started setting aside whole days to focus on listening. The people around me may not realize what I’m doing. The people I’m in meetings with may even think I’m not engaged. What they don’t realize is that I’m completely and totally focused on every word they are saying and how they are saying them. I’d made the decision before the meeting ever started that the day would be a listening day. I will speak only when I have something of absolute value to add. 

I’m sure since I’ve started this that people are “wondering” about me. They wonder what is wrong. That kinda makes me smile because the fact is, nothing is wrong. I’m just working hard to make sure I’ve heard everything exactly right. 

My listening days are helping me learn more. I’ve never learned anything while I was talking so talking less increases my opportunity to learn. I’m trying to make the most of those. 

I’ve often said that hearing is a gift from God but listening is a choice He gives us. It’s a choice I’m trying to make more often. I hope you’ll join me in the pursuit of better listening, we will all be better off for making the effort. 

Before you go…some of you know that I’ve been trying out something relatively new over on Twitter. It’s called SuperFollow. That means I post some tweets that are for subscribers only. The tweets I post for subscribers are video only. I post two each weekday, mostly on leadership but also sales and living a better life in general. I’m also way more available for questions from SuperFollowers than I can be for the million plus regular Twitter followers. The investment to see these “SuperTweets” is $4.99 a month, that’s about 17 cents a day. The videos continue to grow in popularity so clearly a lot of people think they are worthwhile. 

I don’t get to keep the entire $4.99. Twitter of course gets some, Apple, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, gets an even bigger chunk than Twitter. What’s left after that ALL goes to charity. So you can help yourself with pretty good video coaching and make a difference in the world too. This month the charity is very very close to my heart. All the proceeds are going to help kids with Down Syndrome. 

You can find more information by clicking the Super Follow button on my Twitter profile page IN THE TWITTER APP. http://twitter.com/leadtoday Give it a try if you’re so inclined, and if you are, be sure to let me know how I’m doing and how I can be of even more help.

The Most Important Part of Communication 

I used to sell a training course on communication. The course was literally world famous and is still taken by thousands and thousands of people each year all over the world. Most of the people who sign up for the course claim to want to become better communicators but what they really want is to be better speakers. 

There is a big difference between being a better speaker and a better communicator. They learn the difference in the very first week of that 12 week class. They discover that there are two parts to communication. Talking, which is what they signed up to learn, and listening, which they think they are already good at. 

The best communicators understand the difference between a dialogue and a monologue. They know that when they listen they learn. They linger on the words of the person speaking until they are certain that they understand their intent. 

The best communicators listen more than they talk. They know that saying something is no guarantee that it was heard. So they ask checking questions to ensure the person they are communicating with both heard and understood what was said. 

Great communicators don’t talk to another person, they talk with them. The difference in word choice and tone of voice allows for the possibility of real communication to take place. 

When I hear someone say that they learn a lot by talking to other people I immediately question (to myself) their communication skills. That’s because no one learns anything by talking. When we talk we are repeating what we already know, or think we know. It is when we stop talking to listen that we actually learn. When I hear someone say they learn a lot by listening to other people that’s when I know I’m talking with a good communicator. 

Here’s one surefire way you can be a better communicator this very day… put down the darn phone. I know it’s called a smart phone but if it was really smart it would shut itself off when it detected another life form within 3 feet of you. 

The number one cause of poor communication is distraction. The biggest distraction most of us deal with day in and day out is the hunk of electronics almost permanently attached to our hands. 

You cannot text and listen. You cannot watch videos and truly listen to another person. You can’t play whatever game you’re currently fascinated with and give another person’s words the attention they deserve. 

You cannot communicate if you’re not listening. Listening is the most important part of communication. Listening is the key that unlocks the words you need to use to deliver your message in a way that will be heard. Sometimes listening to another person speak is all you need to do to make a significant difference in their life. 

When you become a better listener you become a better person. You become better informed. You become a better friend, spouse and parent. 

You can be better in all those areas by making a decision to talk less and listen more. You may even discover that when you listen with complete attention you actually have nothing meaningful to add to the conversation. That’s when you know you’re truly a great communicator. 

When Leaders Don’t Listen

It’s great to work with a leader who knows a lot. It’s absolutely terrible to work for a leader who knows it all. 

I want you to pay particular to the wording of those two sentences. When a leader knows a lot they work WITH their people to create an environment of growth and success. When a leader knows it all they tend to be far more “boss” like than leader like. They don’t work with their people, they expect their people to work FOR them. 

Leaders who believe they already know it all don’t listen to their people. They don’t need to because the only reason anyone actually listens is to learn something. When you have nothing to learn you have no need to listen. 

It’s bad for anyone not to listen. The most successful people learn something new almost every single day. Much of what they learn they learn by listening. When people in leadership positions don’t listen the results can be disastrous. 

Leaders who don’t listen demoralize their people. Leaders who don’t listen have no way of knowing how to help their people stay motivated. Leaders who don’t listen have no way of showing their people that they care. Leaders who don’t listen will never earn the commitment of their people. 

Leaders who don’t listen have to rely on compliance instead of commitment. They will need to try and force productivity out of their people. They may eventually get some work out of them but the quality and quantity of that work will be less than idea.

Compliance will never take an organization and it’s people to the places where commitment can go. 

It is nearly impossible to become a great leader without being a great communicator. But leaders who don’t listen think communication is only about talking. So they talk and talk and talk. They tell people what to think, they tell them how to think it, and they tell them when to think it. 

Communication is also about listening. In fact, communication is mostly about listening. 

Leaders who do listen give themselves a chance to learn. They give themselves the opportunity to receive information from multiple sources and break it down into actionable tasks. 

Leaders who practice the art of listening receive feedback on their own performance as well as unbiased input about the performance of all members of their team. It allows them to create a truly inclusive organization based on performance not favoritism. 

Leaders who are willing to listen learn exactly how to show their people that they care about them. They know the strengths and weaknesses of their people and they find positions for them where they can succeed. 

Hearing is a gift from God but listening is a choice. Authentic Leaders make the choice to listen to their people, to their customers, to anyone who might help them lead even a little better. 

Have you made the choice to listen? If not it’s a simple choice, just look in the mirror and tell the person looking back that they have a lot to learn. Then start talking less and listening more because when it comes to listening one thing is certain…. if you’re talking then you’re most certainly NOT listening. 

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.