Don’t Be a Zombie: Learn to Be an Active Listener

October 18, 2017
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In addition to running a business, I’m a mom to 2 amazingly energetic and slightly crazy-making young boys (ages 5 and 7). This means that I am often running around like a mad woman, doing my best to stay on top of it all without losing my damn mind. Parents, you know what I’m talking about: keeping a tight schedule to maintain sanity and putting a few things on autopilot for the sake of saving time and mental energy.

However, I find that some really important things can shift to autopilot by mistake. Like listening. Not the smiling and nodding kind of listening, but real, attentive, thoughtful listening. Sometimes I forget to close my computer, look into the eyes of my wild children and absorb what they are saying. I forget to ask questions, bring them close and press for more details. When I go through the motions with a vacant smile and nod, my kids are on to me. They know what’s up and will call me out.

“Zombie”, they say. “Mom, you’re a zombie.”

Yikes! Parent of the year over here.

active listener

Reanimating the Dead & the Path to Trust: You Can’t Fake It

For the sake of our kids, our partners, our friends and clients, it’s critical that we all strive to become more engaged, genuine and active listeners. Active listening is all about building rapport, understanding, and trust—all of which are key components to building relationships in business too.

We have a few steps below that we’re confident will help you become a better listener. The goal is to actually hear what the other person is saying — not just what you think they are saying or what you want to hear.

10 Tips to Enhance Your Listening Skills

  1. Restating
    To show you are paying attention, repeat every so often what you believe the person is saying— not by parroting, but by paraphrasing what you heard. For example, “Let’s see if I’m clear about this. . .”
  2. Summarizing
    Bring together the facts and pieces of the problem to check understanding — for example, “So it sounds to me as if . . .”
  3. Reflecting
    Instead of just repeating, reflect the speaker’s words in terms of feelings — for example, “This seems really important to you. . .”
  4. Giving feedback
    Share your initial thoughts on the situation. Give pertinent information, observations, insights, and experiences. Then listen carefully to confirm.
  5. Probing
    Ask questions to draw the person out and get deeper and more meaningful information — for example, “What do you think would happen if you. . .?”
  6. Validation
    Acknowledge the individual’s problems, issues, and feelings. Listen openly and with empathy, and respond in an interested way — for example, “I appreciate your willingness to talk about such a difficult issue. . .”
  7. Effective pause
    Deliberately pause at key points for emphasis. This will tell the person you are saying something that is very important to them.
  8. Don’t Be Afraid of Silence
    Allow for comfortable silences to slow down the exchange. Give a person time to think as well as talk. Silence can also be very helpful in diffusing an unproductive interaction. Make eye contact and give them the space they need to add to or continue the conversation.
  9. Redirecting
    If someone is showing signs of being overly aggressive, agitated, or angry, this is the time to shift the discussion to another topic. I have to do this with my kids. A LOT 😉
  10. Consequences
    Part of the feedback may involve talking about the possible consequences of inaction. Take your cues from what the person is saying — for example, “What happened the last time you clocked your brother upside the head?”

active listener

The Path to Trust: You Can’t Fake It

Think about the last conversation you had with someone who was clearly not listening. Their eyes wander (or glaze completely), perhaps they keep glancing at their phone, make little to no eye contact or they interrupt (the worst!). When I encounter someone like this, they strike me as self-centered, flakey or downright rude. This flimsy engagement has an annoyingly transparent end-game: they want to know one thing and one thing only: “what’s in it for them?”

Can you trust someone like this? Are you interested in doing business with someone who exhibits this kind of behavior? Of course not.

The next time you have a meaningful chat with someone, try some of our active listening techniques and see if you notice a difference. Perhaps you remember more from the conversation? Maybe the interaction was more enjoyable compared to exchanges you’ve had in the past? Let us know in the comments!

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