Head in HandsOnce upon a time, I helped my workplace host a large conference. Before we began, my boss introduced me to the key conference speakers. I was completely star-struck.

I later realized I had no idea what any of them said to me that night. Not a clue.

As they had each introduced themselves, I just hadn’t been paying attention. The only thing I could think about in the moment was what to say next. Even when I asked them questions, I’m sure I barely heard their answers through my whirring thoughts.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was a massively crappy listener. I still wish I could go back and fix all those conversations. (If you had a conversation with me back then- I promise the next one will be better!)

Does this sound even slightly familiar? Luckily, there’s a simple rule to start honing your conversational skills.

You have two ears, and one mouth. Do the math.

It’s harsh but true. If you want to build authentic relationships, you need to listen twice as much as you speak. Quit talking so much.

Listening skills don’t often come naturally. Think about your own typical conversations. Do you truly focus on what the other person is saying? Or are you just waiting to reply?


Three profiles of crappy listeners

The following characters are based on actual people in my life. They may or may not be past versions of me. (Ahem.)

Crappy Listener #1: The Multitasker 

Doodles, daydreams, and scans Facebook news feed while you talk. Does not hear a thing you say. Dead giveaway: monosyllabic answers. Mmm. Huh. How ’bout that.

How to avoid becoming the Multitasker: Eliminate distractions. And not just obvious distractions like checking your phone, but also internal distractions like what you’re going to make for dinner. Take a deep breath, and make an effort to be present in the moment. Focus on the other person with respect. Pay attention to what they’re saying. And if it’s a bad time for you, reschedule the conversation.

Crappy Listener #2: The Interrupter 

I have one colleague who is funny, and smart. But she’s also an Interrupter. Mid-sentence, she’ll suddenly begin talking over me in a louder voice until I yield. She finishes my sentences and cuts me off to tell her own stories. It’s exhausting.

How to avoid becoming the Interrupter: Conversation will always spark ideas. And when it’s not your turn, you have to sometimes let your ideas go. Don’t blurt them out the second they come to you. It is NOT about you and how smart you are. Shift your focus to respect for the other person. Let them complete their important thoughts. If this is really difficult for you, shut your mouth tightly (or put your finger to your lips!).

Crappy Listener #3: The Narcissist 

When you tell your story to a narcissist, guess what you get back? Stories about themselves. They don’t ask questions. They one-up your story or change the subject. You’ll know you were talking to a narcissist if you leave wondering whether they cared about anything you said.

How to avoid becoming the narcissist: Self-awareness is an important first step. Stop trying to prove yourself! Cultivate respect for, and curiosity about, others. Practice asking thoughtful questions instead of jumping straight into your own story. Try this trick: make a rule to ask three questions for every one statement you offer about yourself.


The authentic networker’s bottom line

Did you notice a theme here? It all boils down to respect. Plain and simple.

Business ownership is a profession that tests your listening skills. And there are millions of crappy listeners out there! The best listeners will be rewarded with meaningful personal relationships. Cultivate respect for people by listening deeply. Don’t simply wait for your next speaking turn; try to fully understand what they have to say. Show them you care.

Your homework: Start a genuine conversation. Get on Facebook and reconnect with an old friend. Post a question as your status update. Talk to a stranger in a coffee shop. Say hi to someone you pass every morning on your way to the office. Whoever you talk to, be interested in what they have to say. Show them respect, pay attention, ask questions, and don’t interrupt. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn about them, and surprised at how much goodwill you build.

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