Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Can You Hear the Wind?

For the second time in two years, I have a close friend who is almost at the end of her cancer treatment—that is, unless her medical team decides to also use radiation. As I watch it all unfold again, I’m feeling inadequate.

I can’t offer medical advice, as I’m not a cancer specialist and have no personal experience to draw from. Listening is the best I can do, and I must admit I’ve never excelled in that department. Like most people, I talk more than I listen and rarely pull myself up short to adjust my behavior. Unfortunately, I’m pretty much an action-oriented person who likes to help by offering solutions.

I think I listen, but all too often I am listening and simultaneously framing my rebuttal (artfully disguised as advice). Why I am always so eager to jump in with an immediate response is a mystery to me. Correcting my behavior should be simple, like reminding myself to slow down and listen, as I may think I know what’s coming next, but most of the time I don’t!

In my defense, I am passionate about many things and love to share my observations quickly—usually with great enthusiasm. Honestly, the latter may be the problem. Listening is a skill for the long haul, and it takes patience, practice and focus. As I continue to work on mastering the skill, I offer some suggestions you may find helpful in your quest to also become a better listener.

First, stop talking—because you can’t listen if you’re talking. Focus on getting your mind set to listen and being able to really hear. Listen to understand rather than to oppose.

Second, be patient. Allow plenty of time.  Don’t interrupt, start for the door, or walk away.

Third, make a list of the questions that may be asked. In preparing my clients for meetings, I drill repeatedly on anticipating the questions likely to be asked and preparing religiously to answer them. Question preparation serves both sides, as we listen with greater clarity when we have prepared for an interchange.

Fourth, consciously remove distractions. That means turn off phones and other mobile devices.  If you’re on a conference call, take notes that will help you focus on content and facilitate greater recall when it concludes.

I listen to get a better understanding of a person’s focus and feelings about a project. It’s one of the best ways to get a clear read on the intent and direction.

Finally, elicit more information and a greater understanding by using the words “what,” “when,” “why,” or “where,” as they can’t be answered with a simple yes or no.

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