Listen if you want to learn
Harvey Mackay

June, 2011

Few things are more frustrating than having to repeat yourself because the person you are speaking to isn't listening.  It wastes time -- and time, as we all know, is money.

Perhaps a little further up the annoyance scale is the exchange -- I hesitate to call it a conversation -- in which both parties are so determined to get their own points across that they have little regard for what the other is saying.  When everyone is talking at the same time, or planning their next remarks instead of listening and responding, the result is never positive.  It demonstrates a real lack of respect for the speaker and the message.

As I've said so many times before, we have two ears and one mouth, which I interpret as a clue that we should listen twice as much as we talk.

My friend Bob Dilenschneider, CEO of The Dilenschneider Group in New York City, who makes his living helping corporations communicate globally, is very concerned about the "lost art" of listening.

"Sadly, the current state of the nation's political discourse underscores how much has been forgotten, or neglected, about the art of listening," he wrote to me.  "We feel the need to cast a light on this topic because of the rising din in public and private discourse -- and the fading prospect the decibel level will ratchet lower.

"Everyone seems to be shouting, declaiming and clamoring; few appear to be listening.  The chasm between hearing and truly listening grows ever-wide.  What has followed, inevitably, is anger, misunderstanding, frustration and, too often, gridlock and dysfunctional government," he says.

Bob attributes a good part of the problem to the age in which we live:  "The problem is pervasive in modern society.  Many of us don't listen because we're too busy talking, texting, blogging, and using Twitter and Facebook . . . Because most people have gotten used to talking without listening to their adversaries, and even their allies, this tendency to transmit rather than receive has become the hallmark of the cyber-era."

Is this a dismissal of the importance of social media?  Hardly.  Face it, we are all so wired in that we can hardly remember when we had to actually talk to each other.  We love the freedom, the flexibility and the efficiency.
 
But when the result is a lost ability to effectively communicate because we can't define the tone of the communication or don't agree with the sender, our listening skills go into lockdown mode.  With the competition for an audience so fierce, the messages get louder and louder.  Is anyone listening?

I would submit that to get people to listen to you, you must first demonstrate that you are a good listener.  Learning -- or relearning -- good listening skills starts with a few basic concepts, which Bob shared with me.  With his permission, I will share them with you.

Will improved listening skills solve every problem?  Of course not.  But you will solve one problem right up front:  establishing a level of respect that will set the tone for the rest of the discussion.

Mackay's Moral:  If you want to be heard, you must know how to listen.