Communications – Listening

In consulting listening is one of the most important skills and one of the most difficult for me.  I find that my ability to problem solve, my tendency to rush to solution and my preconceived ideas and prejudices all get in the way of listening well.  My thoughts and eagerness sometimes lead me to interrupt rather than let the client finish.  One of the techniques I use to keep me quiet is to take copious notes.  It is hard to note what the person is saying and talk as well.

Another technique I use is to try and understand the other person's private logic.  My teachers taught me that people always act and think within their own private logic which is based on how they see the world.  This is often not the way we see the world.  If I hear something inconsistent rather than ignoring it I ask the person to connect the dots for me.  They will be able to connect the points on a line which reveals how they see the world.  I recall somebody telling me they thought the IT director was making a mistake.  Then later they said they thought the IT director had done a good job.  I asked the person to clarify what I thought was an inconsistency.  The person said that previously he had done a good job but currently is making a serious mistake.  Investigation of the distinction was really very interesting. 

Rephrasing and confirming understanding is really critical.  We have to put our egos aside and really try to see things the way the person speaking sees them as opposed to way I see them. 

Practice and rehearsal in a safe environment really helps.  Having a mentor or partner who will help you improve is really priceless.  Harvey, my mentor, used to always asked questions when I went for help.  He was a great model because he helped me discover things for myself. 

In these interviews or discussions more is going on that just fact finding.  We are actually engaged in a process of consulting with the other person.  Using good listening we can help the person understand their circumstances and actions they might take to improve the situation.

Another great listening question is "Is there anything else that you would like to tell me or you think I should know?' or simply "Anything else?".

Are you a good listener?  Any tips and techniques?

  1. Jim Reply

    Thanks for your comment. I find it hard to remember that we really do not understand another person’s private logic. I think I often assume that people think the way I do. So many times, I get caught short many times.
    I try to maintain a skeptical attitude and that helps me remember I really do not really know what is going on.
    Another thing that helps is to remember is hidden factors. This is a subject I teach in my consulting skills workshops. We need to continually remind ourselves that things are often not as they appear.
    If we could only learn to say more often, “Tell me more.”

  2. Craig Harper Reply

    Great Post!
    You’re absolutely right we all live in our own reality.
    Anais Nin was spot on when she made the following observation:
    “We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.”
    Have you ever helped a friend through a relationship crisis and been absolutely stunned and amazed when you got around to chatting to their significant other to get their interpretation of events?
    It’s like, “are you guys talking about the same thing?”
    How can two people in the one relationship or situation, talking about the same issues, have such a completely different take on things and both ‘know’ they’re right? This happens in marriages, workplaces, friendships and a range of situations, every second of every day, in every corner of the globe.
    It’s called perspective; how WE personally see things.
    Our reality.

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