Listening With Everything You’ve Got

I once attended a leadership class in Washington D.C. taught by Dr. Gerald Bell., noted lecturer and founder of the Bell Leadership Institute. He had printed on our graduation diplomas “To listen or not to listen”. Hmmm. Sounds like that might be the question. To listen, or not to listen? I speak Spanish as a second language. When I’m speaking Spanish, I have to really, really listen. One hundred percent of my concentration must be on the speaker and their every word. I’m not completely fluent–I would guess I’m about sixty to seventy percent fluent. I’m a hundred percent fluent in English, though. So I think I can listen to the TV, pay attention to my kids behind me and talk to you while cooking over my grill. But I can’t. That’s the thing Dr. Bell said. “To listen or not to listen”. We can’t do both. We must choose.

We have two ears and one mouth because we’re supposed to listen twice as much as we talk. I say that to my kids’ athletic teams all the time. Is it true? Are we supposed to listen twice as much? More? What about our eyes? You can then see twice as much. If we aren’t using our eyes, aren’t we listening as well? Or better yet, how can we listen with our eyes? Can we take in those nonverbal cues, and use them along with our ears? Will that make our listening better? More effective? Probably.

I believe that reading a room is a talent. I believe that seeing when the verbal doesn’t match up with the nonverbal is a must in customer service. I also know that the difficulty of accurately gauging tone and inflection are why email is a terrible form of communication. It’s terribly easy to send a quick email to follow-up with a customer. However, it’s the worst way to actually judge your customer’s experience.

Think about your experience in a restaurant. Often, my wife will say to a returning wait staffer that her meal is just fine–even when it’s not fine. I usually can tell when my wife’s meal is not fine, but I love to watch and see if the wait staff is really listening to what is going on. I know they’re not mind readers, and they have a lot going on. I just want to see if they’re picking up on her dissatisfaction. If people really care, then they care enough to listen. And sometimes we can listen with our eyes. We have two ears, two eyes, and only one mouth. Shouldn’t we be listening at least four times as much as
we talk?

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