Madhu Einsiedler

5 Tips To Effective Listening

The Dalai Lama once said that, “When you talk, you are already repeating what you know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”

You know my motto: No right. No wrong. Simply growth.

Interested in how not effective listening can help you grow? Ahead of you a 7 minutes read that will spark your growth, if you let it.

How many times have you found yourself sitting in front of someone nodding, yet having no clue of what they just said? Or, how many times did you forget to listen, without even being aware that you’re not quite listening? It happens to all of us. And the key is to acknowledge, observe and correct. Read on, to understand where the disconnect and “non-listening behavior” stems from, and to learn useful tips on how to listen.

There are many reasons and thoughts, which keep us from listening and connecting. Read carefully and choose one (or more) that you feel you fall into the most:

  • I’m already running late.
  • I feel under pressure or stressed out.
  • I have too much going on to pay attention to additional issues.
  • I feel bored and would rather answer emails or finish another task.
  • I think I know what the other person is going to say.
  • I feel irritated or misunderstood.
  • I’m shutting down to protect myself.
  • I’m busy devising a bullet-proof explanation or defense rather than listening.
  • I’m occupied with winning this argument.

Now that you understand more about the root of the problem, let’s go through some efficient ways of tackling it.

We have become so accustomed to our inner voices repeating thoughts like those above that we don’t even notice it—we operate on auto-pilot, barely registering the perpetual stream of thoughts cluttering our minds. But operating on auto-pilot prevents us from stopping to consider whether our behavior, our auto-pilot reaction, is appropriate to the situation at hand.

  1. Make the time.
    Add “listening” to your calendar. 

If it’s about bad timing, stress, or being distracted by other issues on our minds, these are problems we can manage. We can schedule appointments and make time to sit down and listen. (Why we so often feel that we have to deal with whatever one wants from us even when we’re running late or are in the middle of handling other concerns—this issue we’ll save for another article.). It gets a bit trickier when we’re driven to maximize our efficiency. “I have no patience for listening to that,” we might think, or “This is of no relevance to me right now.” These inner statements can prevent us from listening. Again, this problem can be managed by simply scheduling a conversation. Once listening is on your schedule, you’ve consciously chosen to make it part of your plan for an efficient day.
  2. Avoid “reading minds” (pigeonholing)
    When we’re pigeonholing others, that’s a whole different ball game. It makes listening almost impossible. We pigeonhole others when we think, “Oh, I know what they’re going to say,” or “Oh, they only complain and think about problems,” or “They never focus on what’s important.” In these cases, we have—often unconsciously—declared a pre-determined verdict over the other person. At this point, we will only hear what we expect to hear, no matter what is actually said. What can we do in this case? Let’s start from a pragmatic perspective. Make a list of people with whom you often communicate. Next to their names, write what you think about them. Start your sentences with “They always …” and “They are …” Be honest. The next time you talk with them make an effort to consciously listen. Ask questions: why they say what they say, what’s important to them and why, what drives them. Make an effort to re-evaluate what you think about them. Make room for the possibility that you might have been wrong about them. For every “Oh, there you go again,” make an effort to silently appreciate something about them.
  3. Drop the judgment
    Sometimes we stop listening when we start making judgments about what the other person is saying, or the person itself. Keep in mind, there might be times when this person has a point that we miss because we stopped listening. Understanding these moments, and we fall into the trap of drifting away, is part of effective and efficient decision making. Then there are situations when we feel irritated or attacked; we shut down, we retreat, we go into defense mode, or we launch our own attack. None of these attitudes or behaviors allow room for listening. The appeal to simply “listen more” is totally out of its depths here. At this point, we’re in fight or flight mode, where listening has no place.
  4. Be present
    Part of effective listening is making sure you are there for that person, open, present and aware. Ground yourself, clear your mind, and only after, go and have that serious talk with your son about not wanting to go to college. Especially when dealing with delicate topics and situations, “loving listening” can work magic in remedying, healing, keeping things from getting out of hand.
  5. Turn off “auto-pilot” mode
    We must learn to recognize when our auto-pilot switches into survival mode. Once we are aware of it, we can then switch consciously from auto-pilot to manual control again. Only in manual control are we able to lead effectively and efficiently. Only in manual control can we access to our full range competencies.

Now that you have the tools to recognize why you may experience “faulty listening” and the tips to work on these challenges, I invite you to practice them. Invite a good friend for dinner, one whom you love but has always been a bit different from you, and maybe lots of times you didn’t see eye-to-eye. Make the commitment to simply listen. And you are welcome to write me back and let me know what breakthroughs happened for you from that exercise.

Happy listening!

Want to grow more? Check out my blog on how to spot blind spots.