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Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Power of Listening

I recently took advantage of a rare free Saturday and visited a couple of yard sales. My friends will all tell you that yard sales and flea markets have helped to furnish my house. That day, along with a $5 HP computer monitor for a fellow MT, a $5 pair of new Altec Lansing multimedia speakers for me, and other items, I paid 50 cents for a paperback book called Non-Manipulative Selling. The book at first glance seemed to have enough potential to warrant its purchase; but upon further review it was clearly the best deal for the day!

The chapter on The Power of Listening had some great information about the 3 basic levels of listening. The first is marginal listening. It is the lowest level of listening and usually the listener will be easily distracted by their own thoughts or actions (sounds like multi-tasking to me). Marginal listeners may have blank stares, nervous mannerisms, and habits that could annoy the individual speaking. The easiest way to describe marginal listening is what we commonly call “half listening” or even “selective listening” because we hear some of what is being said, but not all of it.

The next level of listening is evaluative listening. This level of listening requires more concentration and attention. The listener is actively listening to what is being said but is not making an effort to accept the message, instead is evaluating the statements made and begins preparing a response. This phenomenon is a testament to the tremendous speed at which humans can listen and think. People talk at an average of 120 to 160 words a minute, but the mind is capable to processing what we hear six to eight times that speed! After reading that information in this chapter, this really was of no surprise to me as this is a fine-tuned skill by MTs and one we exercise daily in our work. Especially with doctors who dictate at warp speed! Listening rapidly, dissecting what is being said, what is meant to be said, and having the resultant information flow through our brains to our hands all in the blink of an eye is something that we do very well and often.

It occurred to me that this remarkable skill that serves us in our profession may not be our friend when it becomes a habit in (non-work-related) conversations. Do you really listen to the intent of what is being said or do you stay on automatic by switching on the evaluative process dissecting the statements and preparing a response, instead of being truly open to the full content of the message?

Active listening is the most effective level of listening. The active listener refrains from evaluating the message and really tries to understand the speaker’s point of view. Attention is not only given to the words but to the body language, thoughts and feelings conveyed by the speaker. The active listener will also give the speaker verbal and nonverbal feedback. Active listening is based on courtesy and concentration.

I have often had the opportunity to speak to audiences and always said that this type of speaking has made me a better listener without ever realizing why. This chapter has answered that question with a section on Irritating Listening Habits to Change. I have likely demonstrated many of these habits over the years or have seen them demonstrated by others, thus recognizing them as things “not to do” when I have my opportunity to speak. See if you recognize any of these habits in someone you know, or in yourself.

--You do all of the talking. I often remind myself that the number one communication skill is not talking, but it is listening. Give it a try.

--You interrupt when people talk. You’re just so eager to get a chance to speak that you can’t wait for them to stop. The problem is after a couple of interruptions they will stop talking, completing stop, so your dialogue ends up being a monologue.

--You never look at the other person – either when talking or listening. Might as well be online. I am sure the speaker is thinking the same thing.

--You put people on the defense when asking a question or start to argue before the speaker has a chance to finish. Now there’s a really fast way to shut down a conversation and how not to make new friends.

--Everything that is said reminds you of an experience that you had and you feel obligated to share the story by taking over the conversation. Are you that hungry for the stage or just lonely? Assume that others are probably not that interested in your life story.

--You finish sentences for people if they pause too long. Unless you are a certifiable mind reader, let the person talking finish.

--You constantly measure people’s words as believable or unbelievable. When did we become so cynical, untrusting, and suspicious? A phrase we use often in governance, although we all need occasional reminders, is to always assume goodwill and best intentions. Isn’t that far more powerful than harboring perpetual suspicion?

These are just a few of the key items from the list of listening habits to change. Before you point the finger at those you may know who demonstrate some of these habits, do a sincere evaluation of yourself as likely some of them could be ones you do as well.

What type of listener are you now – a marginal listener, an evaluative listener, or an active listener, but more importantly what type of listener do you want to be? You have the power and ability to make a change and when you do amazing things will happen – people will find you to be a person they enjoy talking with because you are an engaged listener, and by adopting the principles of active listening you will learn incredible things from others.

Now that’s what I call a real bargain!

Brenda J. Hurley, CMT, AHDI

Reference: Non-Manipulative Selling, 2nd edition, Alessandra, Wexler, Barrera, pp 58-66. Published by Simon & Schuster, 1992.

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