A fan of Frasier right up until the last episode aired in 2004, I have often wondered what that closing song was all about. The song’s composer, Bruce Miller, was asked to avoid explicit references to psychiatry which explains the references to tossed salads and scrambled eggs. The second line, refers to the fact that Frasier, might also be a little confused too but this doesn’t stop him from having the ability to listen, empathise and analyse others. In other words, confused, he may well have been, but he still had them ‘pegged’.
Few would argue that the most important step in any form of communication psychological, medical, commercial or personal is listening. It is subject of over 10,000 books on Amazon with titles that include Active Listening, Are You Really Listening, The Wisdom of Listening and The Lost Art of Listening. It is also the fourth of Dale Carnegie’s Ways in Which to Win Friends and Influence People and the fifth of Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. Covey illustrated this point at one conference with a Native American Talking Stick. The Talking Stick was used when ancient council was called to allow each member to share their sacred point of view. If you had the stick, no one else could talk and the stick wasn’t relinquished until the holder felt understood.
So how should we listen? Well, of all the skills in listening, these are the essential ones, the top three that will serve you well.
1. Listen to Understand. If we take our lead from Covey we should listen to understand rather than the human defult which is more about listening for opportunities to respond or intervene. Whilst we are on the subject we should also avoid the other hidden agendas including fixing, advising, persuading or correcting.
2. Mix your Questioning Style. Start with open enquiries to allow for responses that are not tied down by your question or how you asked it. More closed questions can help clarify or explore new areas as they arise
3. Show you are listening. Use body language, nod, maintain good eye contact, keep your body language open and use short verbal cues such as ‘huh huh’ that do not break the flow. But also keep it natural. There is a fine line between maintaining eye contact and an unsettling stare.
I have had the privilege of working in a number of leadership teams. One of my former colleagues, a sales leader, had a habit, when faced with a situation that involved conflict, of saying that he was going to visit them and give them a ‘good listening to’.
Listening to understand is the foundation for resolving conflicts. However, it will also reduce the chance of misunderstanding, increase your own productivity, improve relationships and reduce the chance of conflict in the first place. And remember 'give them a good listening to'.