The silent skill

GOLF, painting, listening, composing. Which of the words above is the odd one out and why? Listening, because it is the hardest skill to acquire. “Rubbish” I hear some of you demur as you consider your golfing, painting and composing accomplishments – or lack of. Now, I speak with some authority on three of the above. I’m an accomplished ‘marching golfer’ – left, right, left, right. And I once spent an Easter holiday long weekend thoroughly engrossed with easels, canvas and oils producing works of art that would easily embarrass a five year old. Listening I’ve been working on for 20 years and I still haven’t mastered it. Composing I haven’t troubled myself with yet. What is the difference between hearing and listening? Let’s use these simple definitions so that we have a similar understanding. Hearing. Let’s call that the physical response of your ear to noise – energy, vibrations, sound waves. Unless somebody is hearing impaired, we can all hear the same noise. Listening. Let’s call listening what your mind does with that noise – accepts it, rejects it, filters it, interprets it, etc. When several people are hearing a speech they are hearing the same words, but what they are listening to can vary widely. Most of us are inefficient listeners. Tests have shown that immediately after listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, the average listener has heard, understood, properly evaluated and retained approximately half of what was said. And within 48 hours, that drops off another 50 per cent to a final 25 per cent level of effectiveness. In other words, we quite often comprehend and retain only one-quarter of what was said. This compounds the problem when you consider how heavily we rely on the spoken word alone as our main method of communication. It is said that listening is the most critical skill for a manager. Here are some things to do to become more efficient at listening. When someone is talking to you, stop what you are doing and focus 100 per cent on the person. Turn and face the speaker. (Not advisable while driving your car). Let them finish their point. Don’t interrupt. Write down the point that caused you to want to interrupt and then re-focus and continue listening for more information. When you realise that you stopped listening for a moment, be honest and admit it. “Sorry. I just got distracted. Could you go over that again please?” When you don’t understand something they have said or you have missed their point, either write it down to come back to later or put the conversation on hold so that you can deal with this now and free your mind to stay focused on the speaker. “Hang on a second. Just before you go on, let me see if I have this right. Are you saying ... ?” If your mind is elsewhere, suggest another time for this conversation, if possible. “Let’s talk about this later when I can give you my undivided attention.” Continually use this check to help you stay focused. Am I listening to my mind more than her words? Remember that as soon as somebody starts talking to you your mind is instantly activated as you start processing the words and meanings. Which ‘noise’ are you listening to – the ‘noise‘ the other person is making or the ‘noise’ in your own head? Unless you are particularly vigilant (focussed), chances are it will be the ‘noise’ in your own head. Now, you can’t stop this mind process and you don’t want to, but just be aware of who you are listening to –them or yourself. The price of efficient listening is eternal vigilance.

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