Listening Tips for Consultants

Perhaps even more important than being able to ask the right questions, is being a good listener. This area is often neglected because few people think that there is skill in listening. It is assumed that if I hear what you say that I'm also listening to what you say. This, of course, is a bad assumption. Here are comments about listening that might help you improve your abilities in this often neglected area.

Lack of Training - Most of us have been taught to write and speak, but seldom to listen.

Blind Spots - These are words, ideas, and topics we have strong feelings about and, therefore, tend not to be able to listen to very well. We become over-excited by them and stop listening. Alternatively, we become angry, frustrated, or simply refuse to hear and block them out.

Self-Concern - Most of us are wrapped up in our own lives and we find it boring and painful to let someone else talk. The part of the conversation that most of us really enjoy is when we are in the speaker role.

Speed of Thought - The difference in the time it takes to talk and the time it takes to listen is another barrier to effective listening. The average speaker delivers at about 140 words per minute. The average listener, on the other hand, can listen comfortably at about 300 words per minute. Instead of using the time differential to analyze the speaker's message, we tend to fade out, day dream, think about other things we have to do, or plan what we want to say next.

Speaker Behaviors - Most people do not talk in a very organized fashion. We tend to "think out loud" and grope for the idea we want to convey. This process often causes listeners to give up on trying to decipher our message. Other reasons listeners may tune us out include irritating mannerisms and talking a long.

Feelings Blindness - Approximately two-thirds of a speaker's message in any conversation is not contained in the words themselves. It is instead conveyed by the speaker's tone of voice, body language, and word tense. Listening only for the words and not for the feelings behind them is another common listening problem. So listen for the meaning behind the words.

Distortions - This listening problem involves having the speaker's message distorted by our own wishes, feelings, and perceptions. Distortions often take place because we "tune out" as soon as we think we know the speaker's point and mentally begin preparing our own rebuttal. Distortions can have disastrous effects if they are allowed to occur.

Distractions - Disruptions in our environment can affect our ability to focus on what the speaker is saying. Some typical examples of disruptive factors in work environments which could impair your ability to listen effectively include ringing phones, slamming doors, people walking in and out, street noises, etc.

Ambiguities in Language - Different words have different meanings e.g. fast means something completely different than stand fast. Different words also conjure up different mental images to each of us.

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