Many people get high marks for being good speakers. People have become presidential candidates due to their oratorical powers. In business, executives who wish to increase their public visibility hire speech writers to give them something terrific to say. We have long recognized the value of being a good speaker. Just ask any Toastmaster.
Now, how many people do you know who have received a prize or had their picture in the paper because they were a good listener? Darned few, I’ll wager. And yet, it’s rare to find a really good listener.
It’s too bad more people don’t take an active interest in listening, because much of listening involves getting feedback, a commodity which I consider to be a gift. When people tell you something that is important and useful, it means they care enough about you to give honest, sincere, and accurate data, which you should have.
Of course, your reaction to feedback, regardless of its content, will determine whether you will continue to get useful information from others. After all, if someone knows you are likely to become upset about something they’re communicating, they’ll eventually stop giving you information. If people know you’ll reject them or their message when they are honest with you, you’ll be working in the dark without the necessary intelligence about yourself or your environment. For a manager, this can be extremely dangerous. Here are four ways you can become a better listener:
First, always acknowledge with appreciation the person who gives you the feedback. You may dislike the information, but it may be potentially useful data you need in order to be more effective. Remember to disassociate the message from the messenger.
Second, don’t try to listen and think at the same time. I know it sounds crazy—just listen to the information as it comes to you. Disconnect your mental data processor and merely gather the data; process it at a later time. Get as much information as possible, and ask questions that may expand or clarify the situation. Keep pumping for details. The more information you have, the better.
Third, don’t try to solve a problem while listening. If you do this, your listening capabilities will greatly diminish, if not stop. Process all the details and then decide how to use the data. If you rush to react to news without having received all the information, it is possible that your actions will be faulty because the information is incomplete.
Finally, if you are receiving some unpleasant information you don’t especially want to hear, don’t blow up. Keep yourself under control. As I stated earlier, if someone knows you’ll verbally abuse them when they give you unpleasant news, they’ll eventually stop giving you any news at all—good or bad.
To review, the steps to effective listening are: 1. Thank the person for the information. 2. Gather as many details as possible. 3. Act only after you have all the facts. 4. When receiving negative feedback, maintain your composure. And always remember one of my favorite sayings taught to me by a former colleague, Rick Tate: Feedback is the breakfast of champions!