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BY DAVID TOVEYListen is an anagram of SILENT. The anagram was only made obvious to me recently when I was speaking with a musician who told me that measures of silence in music are not waiting periods, they are times of active listening, much like a good conversation. Silence accentuates listening.
We all know that listening is a key part of building trust in a relationship, but how good are we at it really?
It seems to me that most of us are pretty good at knowing listening is a good thing – as long as it’s other people listening to us! I sat next to a machine tool salesman on a flight back from Stuttgart. He talked at me about his job and machine tools from take off until UK passport control. Early in this rather one sided conversation he told me that listening was the most important selling skill!
Listening in a way that is authentic and builds trust isn’t easy
Too often we are hearing, not listening. We lose the art of focusing on words, tone and meaning because we have so much noise going on that we can’t be truly silent. It’s worse if we have a strong opinion or if we have experience. We sometimes don’t even shut up long enough to allow the other person to speak. Interruptions happen because one party can’t wait to get their point or opinion across. When interruptions are frequent the dynamics of a conversation change.
When I ask groups what they think of people who have a habit of interrupting they use words like:
The interrupter may think he or she is getting a point across but more often than not they are simply switching the other person off, or the other person pushes back with their own arguments and no one is listening to anyone!
Listening isn’t just about being quiet
We might avoid interrupting, we might not be speaking but often our brain isn’t silent at all. It is buzzing with thoughts about the next questions to ask, the next point to make, listening for buying signals, wondering if we will make a sale, wondering what’s for dinner! We all know when someone isn’t listening to us, prospects and customers know if they are not being listened to. There are dozens of obvious as well as subtle signals that we are sensitive to. We notice if someone eyes glance across the room and they lose attention, we notice when someone asks the same question twice or if someone doesn’t take a moment to digest what we have said before pouncing on us with their own view.
It may not matter in the debating chamber but it certainly matters if we are trying to win business and build long term relationships.
Listening is hard work
It needs to be a conscious competence. We need to be in the moment, to allow our silence to be broken only by the word of the other person.