By Lynda Ellis
“Most people do
not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to
― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Sometimes, out of the blue, you are given an incredible life-long lesson. Such was the case when I was assigned by the Red Cross to a casualty staging facility at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo, Japan—the facility where wounded U.S. soldiers were brought out of Vietnam.
I was in my early twenties and had no idea how I could help serve our soldiers. Once I started volunteering, I realized that what they really needed from me was to listen. Honored to spend time with the brave soldiers who served our country, I volunteered 70 to 80 hours per week visiting them, holding their hands and listening to their amazing stories. Those young men who I sat with had no idea that they gave me a wonderful gift—the ability to truly listen.
Effective communication is a two-way street involving both speaking and listening. However, I have found that listening, rather than speaking, has helped me build strong relationships, make informed decisions and become a better business owner.
Did you know that studies suggest that the average person hears between 20,000 and 30,000 words per day? However, hearing and listening are two very different activities. Hearing is passive, requiring little effort, while listening is active, requiring attentiveness and concentration. To coin a phrase, hearing is through the ears, listening is through the mind. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and felt that they didn’t get what you were saying? Chances are they heard you but didn’t listen to you. Active listening goes beyond hearing to understand the point of view of the other person.
How often have you been in a conversation thinking about your response to what the other person was saying? It’s a common communication mistake. One of the best ways to build strong relationships is to be an active listener, being present and attentive. Do not interrupt the other person, make sure to maintain eye contact, and when the other person is done speaking, ask questions, then listen – actively. When a person knows that you truly care about what they are saying, you create trust and deepen the realtionship.
When you give 100 percent of your attention to what is being said, process the information, ask questions and confirm your understanding of the conversation, you will gain invaluable insights, reduce misunderstandings and build relationships.