“Listening is not understanding the words of the question asked, listening is understanding why the question was asked in the first place.” — Simon Sinek
It makes me physically ill to think about if I had just done this one simple thing throughout my life thus far, I would have a circle of influence that rivaled the loyalty of a national army.
I was in my own way. I looked to elevate and assist others as a means to boost my own self-worth and self-esteem. I showcased zero authenticity and as a result, my front-line difference-makers allowed me a razor-thin margin for error.
Looking to me for leadership was like turning to an over-the-counter diet pill for weight loss — I may have got you a little motivated for a couple of weeks but eventually, you needed more substance to get you where you wanted to go.
Perhaps the biggest reason why people lost faith in me over time was I didn’t listen to a word that was said outside of my own voice and mind.
Influence is born in listening
We’ve heard John C. Maxwell state the following:
“Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.”
So if leadership is influence, then how the hell do we gain influence?
Well, in short, we can be famous. Or generate a laundry list of accolades. Or go to school for a decade-plus and make sure to add three to four letters to the end of our name.
Or we can simply give what we hope to receive.
To influence someone, they have to absorb your message at their deepest level. And for that to happen, they must be open to hearing it.
Getting someone to be open to anything outside of their own beliefs can be challenging. Regardless of your communication prowess, if you don’t provide people space and time to create linguistically the imagery they want to convey, you’ll be rendered ineffective.
Not only that, you’ll breach their trust to the degree of blatant dishonesty and deceit. Different types of mistakes, yes — but same arena.
Here are five simple rules to ensure you set yourself up for listening success:
1. Let people finish
Not letting people finish their thought is freaking childish. We’re out to have an exchange of ideas and opinions. When you cut people off, even if you immediately apologize for it, you exhibit a narcissistic aura and lack of self-control.
Allow at least two to three seconds of silence prior to issuing a response or commenting once a person finishes their final sentence.
Silence tends to breed truth.
So if they haven’t already shared what’s truly on their mind just yet, chances are they will by the time those three seconds are up.
2. Maintain eye contact
Some will argue breaking eye contact in certain situations is considerate and traditional.
While this may seem harmless, the eyes are far more telling than we realize.
When your eyes go in any direction other than straight ahead, it acknowledges that something else has your attention.
For instance, when a person’s eyes move up and to the left, they are thinking of an image they’ve seen in the past. When the eyes move side to side, they’re either listening to audio from the past or currently being constructed in their own head.
So while a little of this may be necessary to properly understand the message being communicated (and also because we can’t always control it), too much of this gives away that the whoever’s in front of you is currently second on your list of importance.
3. Don’t try to read their mind
You aren’t a psychic. You don’t know what they’re about to say or even what they’re feeling yet. The past is past — leave it there. Don’t leverage it to help you piece together what a person is trying to communicate.
By doing this, you send the message that this person is fixed in who they are instead of the transformative being they wish to be recognized as.
Put a lid on your need to figure everything out and just be present in the emotion behind their words.
4. If you don’t like what you’re getting, take responsibility for it
Feedback is funny, sometimes. Conversations between human beings are almost always a form of feedback in terms of how they’re doing and how they feel about what they’re getting from the person they’re talking to.
I used to shut down any time I felt attacked by one of my employees or colleagues. Worse, I would sometimes lash back out and further deepen the bottomless chasm we like to call argument.
If you don’t like what someone is saying to you, understand they’re giving you feedback. You can either accept the feedback and do what you need to do to change things or you can point fingers and blame.
Raising your voice is cute and all, but you cannot hide from the fact that if anger or disappointment is being thrown in your direction, you did something to help in the creation of that perception.
You can either OWN it and be better or you can shut down.
Pretty simple choice, I think.
5. Shut up
We don’t get much silence in our lives — hardly ever for some people.
Moments of silence are there to allow us to be alone with our thoughts and get present to things bigger than ourselves. Softer than the noise. More peaceful than the chaos.
There’s no greater gift than giving this to another person. Silence is typically only accessible while alone — but you get to be there with them during this solemn period.
Hold back your singular add-ins of agreement or understanding. Even chill out with the head nods.
Just be quiet and allow the person for once, to actually hear themselves in the vulnerable presence of another.