I have a question for you: how are your listening skills?
Think about those times when you are talking to someone, and a few minutes later you can’t remember what they said. Or you can repeat the words, but you really don’t get what they were trying to tell you.
This past week, I got to deliver a keynote to the Music Industry Advisory Group, hosted by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. I was very excited to get in front of musicians, producers, managers, lawyers and CEOs who, as the president of the Chamber said, are the heart of the industry that makes Nashville the Music City of the world.
(I was a tiny bit nervous, but the moment I climbed on stage, I felt ‘at home.’)
I decided to do a talk on “Active Listening” – knowing from my professional experience how important this skill is in the music industry (and how destructive to a career – and personal relationships – it can be when it’s lacking).
The title of my talk was “Myths of Successful People” referring to the myth that successful people are supposed to know it all and have to have it all figured out. In fact, the really successful people are those who know how to ask questions and listen to the answers for valuable clues.
And, of course, I’m talking about the kind of success that’s not only about wealth, fame and status – but more so in having great relationships with people around us.
Active (or mindful) listening is huge! (Many of you who have had great marriages will agree with that, I’m sure.)
The funny thing is that the music industry is all about listening – we listen to each other’s music, we listen for the hooks of that next hit song, we listen to our bandmates when we play, and we listen to our audiences for their reactions. You would think we would be pros at listening…
But listening for what we want to hear, (or are trained to listen to), is not enough.
One of the big turning points for me in learning how to listen – and realizing how little I had known about active listening – was in my training as a life coach.
Coaches listen to clients. fully concentrating on what’s being said – without judgment or thinking ahead about what they are going to say when the client stops talking.
They are able to remember details, ask clarifying questions, reflect back to what was said, and summarize the conversation easily. Coaches don’t argue back or offer their opinion.
Read this again… slowly. Now think: how often do we get to practice that kind of listening?
Most of the time, we are busy thinking up how we are going to respond and what we are going to say… what brilliant thing we can come up with! And often, the person talking to us feels unheard. Whether it’s a personal or business relationship, this is where it starts breaking down.
Learning how to listen like a coach changed my life!
When I applied these concepts across my life – in business meetings, at church, in a conversation with a friend, my kids, strangers, inmates at the prison – I noticed how much better I was able to process what was being said, understand it and then – after I processed it – offer my thoughts and responses.
Now, don’t get me wrong… this is a hard skill to practice all the time. Most of the time I’m the most absent-minded, chaotic-creative person you’ll meet… but when I decide to listen – and when it’s important (like last night when I picked up my sons from a band camp and they were telling me all about their experience), I use this skill – and it’s magic!
The trick is to mindfully bring yourself to the present moment, listen without judgment, ask questions and acknowledge what you heard before you offer your comments or opinions.
Check yourself for non-verbal signs of listening. (Are you making eye contact? Is your body in a position that signals you are engaged?)
Do a quick body-mind-spirit scan to determine if you are listening through a filter. You can use the H.A.L.T. acronym (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) to check what might be the real reason for the way you are feeling (irritable, rushed, sad, frustrated, etc). Rarely can we reschedule an important meeting or tell a child to stop talking in order to tend to our needs, but being aware of how this is affecting us will help us to understand how we are able to listen.
Our fast-paced world doesn’t give us many chances to practice this skill of active listening, but we can create opportunities rather easily.
For example, my kids noticed how Croatians take a long time to sit together over a small cup of espresso. This time allows us to slow down and begin to listen to each other on a deeper level.
We can all practice this daily – simply pause your agenda and bring all your attention to listening to another person. Even if it’s a few words exchanged in passing.
You can also practice active listening with nature sounds – in those times the part of understanding, asking questions, reflecting back and summarizing won’t be as much of a dialogue, but a contemplation (which is also a wonderful tool for spiritual growth).
I hope this was helpful to you.