3 Steps to Connect Through Listening

by Ron Price

Are you interested in developing one skill that is guaranteed to improve every other aspect of your life? This skill can affect everything from your success in business to your closest relationships and happiness. It is a simple skill, but not necessarily easy. It is challenging, but the rewards for making it a central part of your life are immeasurable. It is the most important skill used by everyone from a concert violinist to a top sales person. It will turn enemies into friends, skeptics in the believers, and product presentations into profitable sales.

Listening and understanding others is the cornerstone on which every truly professional person builds her success. Yet it is also one of the primary someone blocks for those who have yet not yet learned its importance.

So many benefits come to a highly advanced listener. When you're able to put this treasure into practice, it can become one of your greatest strengths, and you will see a whole new world that you didn't realize existed before. Other people will certainly enjoy being around you; they will readily share their needs with you and reveal many ways that you can fulfill your goals. Intent listening shows others how much you care, and they are more likely to take a new interest in what you know. When others know that you have listened and understood them deeply, they will be less likely to feel like you were just trying to sell them something or control them. Even better, the greatest benefit of all is that you will be changed by listening effectively to others.

Of course, any skill can be executed correctly or incorrectly, but listening will increase the likelihood of success. What are some of the mistakes we make in listening to others? Probably the biggest is when we “listen to respond.” This means that, instead of patiently considering and reflecting on what another person is saying, we immediately begin formulating a response in our minds while they are still speaking. We then take the first available opportunity to interrupt and begin vocalizing our thoughts. This approach to listening creates more frustration than anything else. The person we speak to walks away thinking that we don't care enough to listen closely; this response focus listening causes him to conclude that his concerns have not been understood enough to help him in any significant way.

The second mistake is listening to argue. This is very similar to listening to respond, but it is a little more aggressive. We might take the time to listen to what the other person is saying, but our motive all the while is to find a vulnerable spot in her position. Our focus, in this case, is to win a debate or prove our superior mental capacities. When approach listening in this way, we failed to see the deeper purpose in communicating. Our ability to influence or persuade is anchored in our ability to first understand a person’s point of view and the reason she feels the way she does.

The third mistake we make is listening autobiographically. This means that we allow the words we hear to trigger similar memories, and we link the speaker’s words or ideas to our own experiences. This type of listening is exposed by phrases like, “I know what you mean. That is the same thing that happened to me when…” But do we really know that is the same thing? Our situation may be similar to the speaker’s, but I can never be exactly the same. When we make this autobiographical link, we are ignoring a greater opportunity to understand what was unique about the other person's experience.

Here are some simple steps we can take that will help us grow bigger ears and hearts, empowering us to become more valuable to others and, in turn, increase our own happiness and success:

Repeat with the other person says to you. It may seem silly to do this, but it is a sure-fire way to break the habit of listening to respond. By repeating the exact words you hear as close as possible, you increase your listening capacity. Of course, it may not always be appropriate to repeat what you have heard word for word. Nonetheless, this discipline will help you focus your attention more on listening and less on how you want to respond.

After achieving a measure of success with this kind of listening, the next step is to repeat the content of what is being said, using different words. This forces you to take another step in the listening process, teaching you to think through the content of what the person is saying. It also helps to demonstrate your sincere desire to understand him thoroughly before responding. Once again, it will impede autobiographical listening and heighten your senses to information that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

The next step in quality listening is to restate the way the other person is feeling. It isn't enough to just hear words or even change the words without losing content. It is only when we begin to hear the heart that we truly begin to understand the whole person. Can you internalize and restate the emotions the person is feeling? Are deeper needs being revealed beyond the words? These are questions to use in order to identify more closely with what is unique in the speaker’s experience.

Unless we take the time to hear others at heart level (which is achieved by engagement and emotional level), we understand only a small portion of what we should. Even if I might be able to anticipate what the other person wants to say, he still needs to say it. Effective listening demands patience. 

Here is the final indicator of effective listening: could you be an advocate for the other person’s point of view? It doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with what she is saying. Do you understand it well enough that she would trust you to represent her position to another person? This is a valuable exercise in selling, negotiating, and reconciling differences.

Most of the time, people think that we disagree because we don't fully understand them. If we can show that we understand well enough to represent their position, even if we don't agree, they will often be more open to being influenced by a different opinion. Many times, listening and probing for deeper understanding will result in others discovering deeper truths without us saying anything.

Excerpted from Treasure Inside: 23 Unexpected Principles That Activate Greatness by Ron Price.