What Do You Do When Someone Else is Talking?

“You can’t use these while you’re using this,” I explained to my daughter, pointing to my ears then to my mouth.

One of the things no one tells you about being a parent is that you will spend much of your life coaching your children to be better communicators.

Unfortunately for many of us, they tend to pick their worst habits from their parents!

As a manager, I have helped many employees over the years to improve their communication skills, often using similar techniques that I now use with my kids.  (No insult intended, former employees of mine!)

In the end, it comes down to listening.  To be more specific, active listening.

What do you do when someone else is talking?

An ineffective communicator uses that time to think through what they’re going to say next.

OK, after she finishes this, I’ll bring up my third point about this project.  Then I should really make sure we address the issue with the publishing tool because that has to be a top priority.  I wonder if others on the team have had this conversation?

As I coach my daughter, you just can’t use your ears and your mouth at the same time.  Well, you can, but one of those two things is going to suffer.

In his very poorly-named yet immensely meaningful book, How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie shared a former Harvard president’s wisdom on how to be successful.  “There is no mystery about successful business intercourse,” he explained.  “Exclusive attention to the person who is speaking to you is very important.  Nothing else is so flattering as that.”

In my early days of sales skills training we were taught tricks for objection handling, which I still remember to this day.  In short, I learned tips on how to help calm a customer who is irate and upset.

The steps are super simple: Listen, Acknowledge, Empathize, Respond.

Listen: Don’t respond, just focus on what they’re saying and allow them to vent.
Acknowledge: “I hear you, and I understand you.”
Empathize: “If I were in your shoes, I’d be pretty upset too.”
Respond: “Here’s how I’m going to try and help.”

I have dealt with some very unpleasant conversations, and what always amazes is me that the very first step, “Listen”, often does the most to calm down the other person.  There’s a reason why listening is paramount!

Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity.
— Roy Bennett

Stephen Covey decided that one of the seven habits of successful people was to “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.”  That is, your first goal in any discussion should be to understand the other person’s point of view.  Once you’ve done that, you can then focus on articulating your own opinions.

One of the things I write at the bottom of my daily journal is “Always Connect.”  This is a reminder that my personal and professional life will thrive if I focus on making meaningful connections with others.  It acknowledges that my best days are those when I’m able to foster my relationships with friends and family.

It also is a reminder that the best way to build positive relationships is to listen more than I talk.  By putting myself in others’ shoes through empathic listening, I can be a much better resource for them.

Roy Bennett put it best when he said, “Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” 

The next time you speak to someone, really focus on what they’re saying.  Give them direct eye contact and immerse yourself in their words and ideas.  You may end up realizing how rarely you give others your full undivided attention!


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