Today’s guest post is written by Brian Ahearn. Brian’s one of the most knowledgeable guys I know on the subject of influencing people (which is why he’s been a guest here before). Brian’s blog, Influence PEOPLE, is followed by people in more than 180 countries. You can learn more about Brian at the end of this post. Enjoy!
My wife Jane is an excellent golfer, a poster child for hard work and practice. Many years ago she said, “I’m tired of people saying I have potential. I want good scores!” She started taking lessons, practiced consistently at the driving range and saw her scores drop from 105-110 to the low 80s and occasionally a score in the high 70s! She exemplifies a truism in life – you don’t get good at something by merely learning about it. At some point you have to “do the stuff.”
Over the last few years I’ve conducted many sales workshops where people practice different skill sets. One such workshop was on active listening skills. Good listening skills are just as important for leaders as they are for salespeople.
Excellent leaders recognize the more information they have the better the solutions they can come up with. One important way leaders get their information is by actively listening. I’ll share five pointers to help you become listening “STARS.”
Listening is an active skill so you need to do several things if you want to excel. Listening skills are not things you can’t do. For example, I often tell workshop attendees I can’t dunk a basketball. Never could and it’s not likely at 48 years old, standing just 5’9 tall, that I ever will. Jumping high enough to dunk a basketball is a skill I don’t have and can’t acquire no matter how hard I work. If someone told me my career depended on dunking a basketball I’d start looking for a new career.
But that’s not the case with listening skills! Each of the five pointers I’ll share is within your power to do if you’ll just make the choice to employ them. To be listening STARS, you need to remember Stop, Tone, Ask, Restate and Scribble. Let’s look briefly at each.
Stop – First thing you need to do when communicating with another person is stopping everything else you’re doing so you can give them your full attention. People who think they can multi-task are fooling themselves. Scientific studies show people who try to multi-task end up taking longer to do both tasks and are more prone to making errors.
Tone – A person’s tone of voice is important for a couple of reasons. First, it indicates mood. You can usually tell by the tone of voice whether someone is happy, sad, angry, stressed, relaxed, etc. The other reason tone is important is because it gives more meaning to the communication. For example, the sentence “I can’t believe you did that” can mean many different things depending on the word or words the speaker emphasizes.
Ask –Make sure you ask good questions. This is important because it helps clarify the message the other person is trying to deliver. It’s also a great way for you to find out things you think are relevant to the discussion, even if the other person doesn’t think they’re important.
Restate – It’s not enough to think you know, or think you understand what the other person said; you need to verify that you’re on the same page. Restating what you think you heard, and then putting the message in your own words is a quick, easy way to make sure you fully understand the message as it was intended.
Scribble – Take notes. Remember, note taking isn’t to write a novel, it’s to capture key points and key words to jar your memory as you recall the conversation. Too often I see people take the focus off of the speaker because they get so intent on writing as much as they can. In the end they miss a lot because this is a form of multi-tasking.
During our workshops ran a little experiment on distracted listening. I read a short story to the class. One third of the class just sat back and listened, another one-third took notes, and the rest of the people tried to connect scrambled numbers 1 to 72 while listening to the story. After I finished I give a short question quiz to everyone and having done this with nearly 200 people here’s what I found:
Those who took notes got about 60% more questions correct than the distracted group. Those who just sat back and actively listened got nearly 75% more questions right than the distracted group!
A couple of learning points came out of my little experiment. First, as mentioned above, if you take notes, be brief so it doesn’t become a distraction. Second and more importantly, stop whatever you’re doing and give your full attention to the person speaking. That means put away your cell phone when you’re in a meeting or conference. You can tell yourself all you want that you can do both but you’ll never be as good a listener as you could be.
So let me ask this – what would it do for you as a leader if you caught 60% to 70% more of the message when people spoke to you? I’d expect it would help you make better, quicker decisions because you’d have more and better information. If you want to be an excellent leaders then make sure you’re listening STARS. Make the choice to follow the five simple steps I’ve outlined above and you’re sure to improve.
In addition to developing and delivering sales training at State Auto Insurance Brian Ahearn is one of only 27 people in the world certified to teach ethical influence and persuasion on behalf of Robert Cialdini, the world’s most cited living social psychologist. Read more of Brian’s perspectives on his blog Influence PEOPLE.