Active Listening – It’s Harder Than You Think 3

Active listening; when you read those words out loud what kinds of images conjure up in your mind? Active Listening – What does it suggest to you?  A study conducted by Dr. Ralph Nichols – a communication expert – suggests that individuals listen about 25% of the time; most people recall only 50% of what they hear; and 70% of all misunderstandings happen because people do not listen to each other. It’s been reported that grade school aged children listen to their teacher just 25% if the time? By the time young people graduate from high school they are listening to the teacher just 17% if the time. That number drops to 12% by the time they earn their college diploma. How much do you think they are listening by the time they join the workforce?  How much do you think they are listening by the time they come to work for you?

Worth Remembering …

“There is no such thing as a bad listener. There is only a person with inflexible listening habits” – Doug Larson

Have you ever observed a conversation going on between two people and know that neither one of them was listening just by watching their body language and listening to what was or wasn’t being said? (They where just waiting for the other person to take a breath so they could jump in and take over the discussion) Two monologues don’t make a dialogue.

Worth Remembering …

“We have two ears but only one mouth. Some people suggest that’s because we should spend twice as much time listening as opposed to talking. Others suggest it’s because listening is twice as hard” – Author Unknown

We all suffer from natural tune-out. We listen and speak at two different rates of speed which makes listening difficult at the best of times. According to Dr. Nichols the average person has the ability to speak at a rate of 125 to 150 words per minute. Yet, your mind can comprehend and process information at an average rate of 500 words per minute. If you do the math that adds up to a time-lapse of some 350 words.  What can you do to stay in the moment and avoid tuning out? What can you do to stay focused on the sender and not let your mind start to wander? What new habits will you need to learn to become a more “Active” listener?

Receivers Need to Develop Good Listening Habits

We are adults and we can learn new habits. Just stop doing one thing and start doing another. And the more that you do it – the more it becomes you. And if you do it often enough you’ll have developed a new habit. Habits are great because you end up doing it without even thinking about it.

Patience: Be patient with yourself and the speaker. Do not interrupt. Concentrate on what the speaker is saying. When they have finished ask open and closed ended questions for clarity. (Being patient was a hard one for me. I have a tendency to jump in and finish your sentence for you)

Focus: Send verbal and non-verbal cues to the sender that you are giving them your undivided attention. (I call that the Dr. Fraser Crane – Hello – I’m listening) Be sure to smile – face the speaker – turn off the cell phone – put down your papers, and give the speaker your undivided attention. (I find myself slipping back now and again and positioning my arms across my chest. People may interpret that as being closed and that you are no longer listening)

Open Mindedness: Try not to become emotional. React and respond to what is being said, not to the speaker. As Dale Carnegie said – “I listen to understand … not necessarily to agree”. Respect the fact that people have a right to their opinions and they have a right to express their opinions. As long as they do it respectfully and play nice.

Worth Remembering …

“In the Industrial Age, the CEO sat on the top of the hierarchy and didn’t have to listen to anybody. In the Information Age; you have to listen to the ideas of people regardless of where they are in the organization.” – John Sculley 

Active listening (Receiving) is as important to communication as effective speaking (Sending). I think the receiver is the most important person in the conversation. If they don’t receive the message the way the sender intended – then what ever the sender said means absolutely nothing. Good communication takes two. Be “Actively” involved. What new habits will you need to learn to become a more active listener?

If You Can’t Communicate Effectively – You Can’t Manage

How would you define communication? What are you trying to accomplish when communicating with someone else? I define communication as an exchange of thoughts and ideas amongst one or more persons. (Of course I’ve been known to talk to myself on more than one occasion) The key word here is “Exchange”. An exchange suggests to me that effective communication takes two. (The sender and the receiver) Talking and communicating are two different things. Managers often fall into the trap of talking too much and not communicating enough. If you can’t communicate effectively – then you can’t manage – period!

Worth Remembering … “Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much” – Robert Greenleaf

Tips for Communicating and Interacting More Effectively

  • When giving instructions use direct, to-the-point communication without a lot of social chatter. Too much information muddies the water and tends to confuse the brain. (Less is more).
  • Check at the end of the discussion to make sure everything was heard and the receiver received the message the way it was intended. Ask open-ended questions to promote dialogue. (The Five W’s – What, Where, When, Why and How)
  • Don’t use a closed question if you want to promote dialogue. Closed will only get you a one word response. (Yes, No, Maybe, So)
  • Use informal, open-ended discussions in a social environment. It encourages small talk and small talk is important for building rapport and developing relationships.
  • Provide an opportunity to share stories and ideas in an enthusiastic exchange. (It lets the other person know that you like them. People won’t be interested in you unless you are interested in them.)
  • Use two-way dialogue. Responding to a person’s feelings is just as important as to what is being said. (Empathy is an important 21st Century skill to have)
  • Provide regular opportunities for informal, casual discussions. (This is a great exercise for building collaborative teams)
  • Listen more than you talk. (Don’t take over the conversation)
  • Initiate conversations in a friendly, low-key manner
  • Use formal communication in new situations, avoiding personal questions until you have established a relationship.
  • Use logical, matter-of-fact statements rather than emotional expressions when you are upset about a particular situation. (Deal with the facts only – keep your emotions in check – take a deep breath or a long walk)
  • Smile and keep your arms down at your sides.
  • Check for points of disagreement or misunderstanding by being more intuitive to the non-verbal signals being sent. Make sure your actions and words are as one. (The other person will believe the non-verbal to be more accurate.) We communicate 55% of the time by body language alone.
Worth Remembering … “We have needed to define ourselves by reclaiming the words that define us. We have used language as weapons. When we open ourselves to what they say and how they say it, our narrow prejudices evaporate and we are nourished and armed” – Selma James

Is Your Cup Half-Full or Half-Empty 1

Sir Winston Churchill once said “For myself – I am an optimist. It does not seem to be much use being anything else.” Do you walk around thinking that your cup is half-full or half-empty? I choose to see my cup as half-full. I choose to see the positives in everything that happens to me and around me – because I believe that everything in life is a learning opportunity. Even the negative things that happen to you, and trust me there will be plenty of them, are really positives if you choose to look at them from a different point of view. (It also helps if you believe in fate) I believe everything that happens to you in life – happens for a reason.  Whatever happens today is preparing you for what is going to happen tomorrow.

Worth Remembering … “The bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn” – Amanda Curtis Kane

I believe I am without a doubt the most optimistic person you will ever meet. But besides being an eternal optimist I’m also a realist. (I do have my Dr. Phil moments of clarity) I know that I can’t control everything that goes on around me. I know most outcomes are out of my hands. But I do know that I can control how I choose to react in any given situation. I know that in that space between stimulus and response that Dr. Covey talks about – and what Dr. Viktor Frankl knows to be true from his own experiences – that I must react in a way that is going to get me what I want.

Worth Remembering … “Everything can be taken away from man but one thing – to choose – ones attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” – Frankl

Viktor Frankl was born into a Jewish Family and ended up being shipped to a German Nazi Concentration Camp along with his wife, mother and father during the Second World War. He lost his wife to the camp at Bergen-Belsen, his father to the camp at Theresienstadt  and his mother to Auschwitz. Viktor considered himself one of the lucky ones who managed to survive the camps. Viktor understood the power to choose. Viktor understood that no one else but he could decide how he wanted to react to any given situation.

Viktor believed that the most powerful motivating and driving force in one’s life is the quest to find meaning in one’s life. He believed that it is that search for meaning which motivates us to carry on. And in some cases to endure tremendous hardships with the thought that there must be a better future waiting for us. Viktor believed that although the Nazi’s had taken away all that was dear to him – his prized manuscripts, his wife, his loving parents and friends – they could not take away his ability to choose.

Worth Remembering … “When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound; rebuild those plans and set sail once more toward your goal” – Hill

Everything you do – is a matter of choice. You may not like the choices that you have to pick from – but it is a choice. You can choose to do nothing – and see what happens – or you can choose to do something and hopefully end up with what you want. Like Viktor – we all have choices. If you change the way you look at things – the things you look at will change. It’s a matter of choice.

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks 3

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it. The trick is, find out how to make him thirsty. Team leaders, supervisors and managers will be judged not by what they know, but by their ability to teach someone else. But trust me – teaching someone else what you know isn’t easy. If that was the case, superstar athletes would go on to have superstar coaching careers after their playing days were over. And we know, in most cases – that just doesn’t happen.

Answer this question: If you understood how I like to receive and process information and how I prefer to be taught, and if you applied what you knew about my learning preferences, would it make the teaching experience more enjoyable for you and for me? Would I be more receptive to what you were saying and therefore more likely to try? We both know the answer would probably be a resounding yes! Some Adults learn differently – therefore you need more than one teaching style.

Adults Can Learn New Things

Adults can learn new things – given the right set of circumstances in an environment that is conducive to learning. Think of ways that you could apply these five principles of adult learning to create a positive learning experience.

  1. Adults learn when they understand why something is important to know or to do. Make sure everyone understands the “why” in what you are trying to teach them. They may not agree, but they need to know your reasoning. And it can’t be just because you said so. You are working with adults here – not children. (Although, I don’t think saying “because I told you so” works with children anymore either. At least not in my world)
  2. Adults learn when they have the freedom to learn in their own way. Try and incorporate all of the senses in your approach to ensure learning has taken place. Remember that visual learners rely on pictures, auditory learners listen to what is being said, and kinesthetic learners need to  physically do something to fully understand what it is you are trying to teach them.
  3. Learning is experiential. Adults like to relate or link new knowledge to past experiences. Any activity that gets your learner involved makes that learning experiential. Group discussions, role-playing, building something – any activity at all will work. Activities are also a great way to keep people energized and engaged, especially activities that involve getting up and moving around.
  4. The time is right for them to learn. There is an old Buddhist saying: “When the Student is ready, the Teacher will appear”. Adults like to learn in their own time. And what they learn must be relevant and applicable. Adults, for the most part, only want to know what they need to know and only when they need to know it. They aren’t looking to stockpile information on the chance that they might need it in the future. (Unless they are a huge fan of Trivial Pursuit.)
  5. The process is positive and encouraging. As a teacher you are trying to get people to step out of their comfort zone into the growth zone. Be very mindful of the fact that they are most likely trying something for the very first time. They are going to make mistakes.They need to know that you aren’t going to zap them when they do. They need to know that they can trust you, that you won’t belittle them in front of their peers. And they need to know that they can ask you a question – no matter how trivial you might think it is – and you’ll answer it without sarcasm. Teachers need to have patience in spades because some people learn quicker than others.

Be their biggest fan. Cheer them on with each small victory by praising their performance and giving them words of encouragement. If you truly want them to be successful, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t – then your praise and words of encouragement will sound sincere. Adults can tell when you’re being condescending and insincere. They don’t like to be patronized. 

Worth Remembering …  “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I will learn.” – Benjamin Franklin