Ask the next six people you see, “Are you a good listener?” and you’ll likely hear six kinds of “yes.” It’s a quality that most of us take pride in, like being a good driver or a bad liar.
But if you then ask, “Are most people good listeners?” you’ll get far fewer positive responses.
Which probably means that some of us don’t listen as well as we think we do. We do know that good listeners pay attention, ask questions, and exhibit encouraging non-verbal cues while maintaining an open mind. Easy! But how do we know we’re doing all that? By checking our own behavior in real time.
To know when you’re listening well, take three looks:
- You’re learning something. Make it a habit to find out (or better understand) something from what you’re hearing. Incuriosity is an abomination anyway, on the order of smoking or never exercising, so flex your curiosity muscles by asking questions and clarifying to be sure you get the point.
- You’re there. You’re not doing anything else, Not physically, not in your head, and not with your eyes or fingers. OK, driving and walking are exceptions, of course, as is drinking and eating, because cars, strolls, booze and meals make great conversation venues, assuming we don’t text, speed, talk and chew at the same time. In any case, as other thoughts drift your way, you quickly set them aside.
- You’re judgement-free. Your Opinion Reflex (I have a separate post on this) is off duty, and you don’t feel the need to share your instant evaluation of what you’ve heard. At least not until you’re asked. Preferably twice, because the first time your opinion is solicited, you automatically pop back to #1 to make sure you’ve really listened.
It’s not exactly hard to be a good listener. And perhaps its perceived scarcity makes it all that more valuable as a skill.