Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Most people think they listen well. The truth is, listening is a skill that must be developed and worked with over time. Even when you are an adept listener you have to continue to question what you are not hearing, to learn what information is under the surface.

Most of listening is not verbal. Less than 10% of what people say is what they really mean. You need to be aware of their surroundings and their body language to truly understand their situations.

In addition, you have to listen without ego. Do not judge the information, do not answer questions for the speaker, do not finish sentences for them.

Do make sure that you are not just waiting for your turn to talk.

A great way to practice listening skills is to talk to teenagers. Try to really listen without judgement and to understand.

Here's an example.

"Hey Johnnie, what are you doing?"

Johnnie "Nothing."

(note: Johnnie is playing a video game while you ask him this question, so he's obviously not doing something. His words do not reflect his actions. As you ask the question note the tone of his voice. Is he saying 'nothing' to get rid of you or curious to see if you'll ask more questions to find out what is really going on with him? It's critical here not to get angry or frustrated and to be open to his answers. If you don't he'll shut down and communication will stop.)

A great exercise to use in any situation is to ask 20 open-ended questions. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a yes or no answer. You will get much more information than with a closed-ended question. If you do ask a closed-ended question, be sure to follow up with an open-ended question. If you get stuck and cannot think of one, try using the words "Tell me" before any question.

An example is "Tell me how you made the decision to purchase your last software program?"

Two exercises I use in Sales Trainings are "Tell me about the house you grew up in" or "Tell me about the first car you bought". I have one participant ask open-ended questions and one listen and take notes. It's a lot of fun to see where the topics go and what is learned about the person being questioned.

Give 20 open-ended questions a try. You can try it with a business colleague, a friend, a spouse, a child. You'll have fun. I promise.

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