The Art of Listening – Part 1

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a couple of business interactions that left me feeling “unsatisfied.” In both cases, I was dealing with highly qualified professionals who were giving me advice. Though their advice was good, I felt like they weren’t completely present. Their eye contact wasn’t great and I had a hard time getting a word in edgewise. These interactions reminded me of a story I heard several years ago.

A husband and wife were eating breakfast at the kitchen table getting ready for their day. The husband sat at the table, sipping his coffee and reading the paper. The wife started talking to him about things that needed to be done around the house, their kids’ doctors’ appointments, and other family business. The husband continued reading the paper, occasionally grunting, “Ok” or “Yeah.”

After a couple minutes, the wife snatched the newspaper out of his hands, ripping it in half. The husband yelled, “What the $%#@@ did you do that for?”

The wife shouted back, “You weren’t listening!”

The husband replied, “Yes, I was!” He then proceeded to reiterate every point she had made while he’d been reading the paper.

The wife shot back, “Well, you may have BEEN listening, but it didn’t FEEL like you were listening!”

Most people want to feel listened to. It’s a basic human need. Even in business, people have a need for connection.

I can’t tell you how often I have conversations where I feel like people aren’t really “present.” They seem to be consumed with what THEY’RE saying or thinking about what THEY’RE going to say next. They keep talking and don’t appear to be listening. In the process, they fail to connect with me. The rational part of my brains says, “No big thing…don’t take it personally.” But on some emotional level, I may feel ignored, annoyed, or even undervalued by the other person.

In life and business, listening is vital. But it’s not enough just to listen. It’s important to make the other person feel listened to. Give the other person your full attention. Don’t just talk—listen. And whether you’re talking or listening pay close attention to the other person’s verbal and non-verbal cues. Listen not only with your ears, but with your eyes as well. Keep good eye contact and give the other person space to talk.

In my book, Sell the Feeling, I talk about the importance of feelings in business. People want to do business with professionals who give them a feeling of being taken care of. Be sure your clients, customers, and prospects feel like you’re really listening. Don’t just talk—listen!