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Enhancing Listening Skills

Dale Carnegie, the author of the 1936 book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (over 15 million sold) was often asked to attend White House dinners because people said that he was such a great conversationalist. His secret? He never talked about himself. He simply let others talk about themselves, which is what people like to do.

Remember that people talk to us for a lot of different reasons. Some to talk about themselves, some to provide entertainment, some to share feelings, opinions or knowledge, and some to get to know others and build relationships.

Regardless of the reason, people want someone to listen to them when they speak. Zig Ziglar famously said, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Listening is caring.
Here are a few tactics to enhance our listening skills:
Listen to everything they have to say. If they are explaining their problems to you and are certain that there are 9 things you need to know before you can accurately and completely address their problem, but you only allow them to tell you 6 of them, they will not believe your advice—because you don’t have all the information.
Listen to the tone of what is being said. Our brains place 37% of the interpretation of a conversation on the emphasis placed on specific words. Listen closely for this tonality to better understand what is most important. By the way, the brain only puts 7% of the interpretation on the actual words that are spoken, so tonality is more crucial than individual words. (The other 56% of the interpretation is in the reading of body language).
What is the content they are sharing? Are they mostly sharing data, or mostly how they feel about something?
Listen for circular thinking vs. linear thinking. Circular thinking is abstract, while linear thinking is logical. In circular thinking, all their content is somehow related and shared as one mass of information. Linear thinkers focus on sharing specific information in a methodical manner. The circular, abstract thinkers will require your to get them more focused and keep on track. Linear thinkers share the essential information, but may need some help understanding the concerns and feelings of others because they are completely focused on the facts.
While listening to what is being spoken, listen for what is not being said.  In a recent succession planning meeting with three generations of a family business, the succeeding generations were firm in their desire for more control and authority, but made no personal demands. It wasn’t about getting control so they could steer the business in the direction they wanted it to go. They were all focused on what was best for the operation, the elder generation and long-term vision of the business. Recognizing this allowed the elder generation to be more open to developing a more comprehensive estate plan, structing the succession process and ceding control at a more rapid rate.
In situations where there is significant cross-talk, many competing ideas and passionate expressions of concern, the person that listens often controls the conversation and can steer it toward the most beneficial outcome.
Identify the participants that are not talking and ask for their opinion. Give them time. They are hesitant to talk for a reason, but often have some of the most thoughtful comments that can accelerate the conversation toward a more desirable and comprehensive solution.

What are some of the techniques you use to ensure that you are listening in a constructive manner?
Don Tyler
Tyler & Associates
These opinions and commentary are Don Tyler’s own. They are not necessarily those of ASAC or its members.
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