Nothing changes a person faster than the way you listen to them.
One of my clients, Carl, has a coworker, Marty, who is loud, stubborn, arrogant, and acts like he's always right, unfortunately even when he's not. He also says, “No” when you ask him for anything.
Marty has managed to alienate just about everyone. When he starts to talk, people run for the door. If there's no escape possible, they endure it, but it's painful.
No one has managed to get Marty to listen to them. Every point they make triggers a counter-point that easily turns into an argument if they respond to it.
The problem is that Marty is good at what he does. He's influential and can't be ignored. People like Carl rely on him for resources and cooperation. Marty's been there a long time, he’s very knowledgeable about what he does, just utterly unwilling to listen to anyone else (because he knows how wrong they are).
Based on what Carl told me, I knew that Marty lacked even basic communication skills and was unable to receive any incoming communication.
I also could tell no one was listening to Marty. They “knew” what he was saying was inaccurate and so they would shut him out, they couldn't help but resist hearing him out.
They didn't realize they were doing the same thing to Marty that he was doing that annoyed them.
This isn't unusual. There's a lot of pretended listening that goes on. People shape their facial expressions to look like they’re listening, but inside there’s a lot of internal activity going on and they’re not REALLY listening (or hearing).
The key to real listening is to not think at all while you're listening, to focus all of your attention on simply receiving and understanding what the other person is saying. Pure understanding with nothing else added.
Easy to do if they’re a nice person or you’re interested in what they have to say. Much harder if you disagree or they push your buttons.
Last week, as part of a workshop, I coached Carl on listening. He developed this skill (and it IS a skill) to the point where his ability to really listen could stand up in a hurricane. To the point where he had no urge to interrupt, he was fully attentive, he was strongly interested, and he had high affinity for the other person regardless of what they were talking about or how negatively they were communicating.
This was a whole new way to for Carl to listen. It wasn’t easy to develop this skill, but after practicing, he really had it.
The first time Carl sat down to listen to Marty, it took a long time. Marty talked for 40 minutes straight. He was arrogant, opinionated, pointing out everything he thought was wrong with Carl and his department.
Most people would not have made it to the 60-second mark, with just pure listening and understanding, without any thinking, straining, or judging.
Carl listened intently and perfectly for the full 40 minutes until Marty looked very satisfied he had said everything. Carl made really sure Marty was completely satisfied he had said everything that was on his mind.
Then Carl gave him a very thorough acknowledgment, letting Marty know he fully understood what Marty had said, that he really understood Marty's point of view, where Marty was coming from. Carl demonstrated his understanding with an amazingly good, extensive acknowledgement. This was not a validation, it was an acknowledgement.
Carl didn't indicate that he agreed with Marty, just that he fully understood.
Marty looked a little surprised but extremely pleased. And then, for the first time ever, he asked Carl what his thoughts were.
They they had their first good conversation.
Carl continued to do this (listen & acknowledge Marty) over the course of 2 days. Marty's monologues became shorter and shorter and shorter. They also became less critical and accusative, they became more positive. Best yet, Marty became more and more interested in what Carl had to say.
It was all very natural, organic. It just flowed.
The situation went from being a painfully negative monologue by Marty which was always followed by Marty's rejecting everything Carl said, to a real 2-way conversation, a real dialogue, back-and-forth. Complete understanding on both sides.
In 2 days the relationship completely changed.
Not only that, but Marty changed the way he relates to everyone. He’s now pleasant, and interested in what others think. Everyone is noticing and commenting.
Marty still has very strong opinions, but now it's possible to discuss them with him rather than debate or argue. The struggle is gone. Projects are moving forward. Marty's resources are being allocated more effectively. Marty even agreed to make a project schedule more aggressive, even though it meant he would sacrifice some of his best people to it.
This was all last week. On Monday, Marty sent Carl an email thanking him and telling him their conversations have been “excellent” and he greatly appreciates them. What that says to me is that Marty spent the weekend reflecting on it. Somehow he must've noticed his whole life changed.
This is the power of real listening. I’ve coached this skill for over 30 years and truly the first time someone practices real listening in one of my workshops, it’s difficult for them to get to the 60-second mark before they crack. It’s a skill to be able to listen and maintain it as long as needed. A skill that pays off big time.
Many people call the skills I teach magic, and I quite have to agree.