Becoming a Professional Listener

3. Think Before you Listen!

Ever heard someone say, “Think before you speak”? Maybe just after you said something incredibly insulting or that was otherwise in bad taste? When was the last time you remember saying something that you later regretted, wishing you could reverse time and go back to when you had not said it.

Interesting enough, our culture stresses the importance of thinking before you speak. But we don’t seem as interested in thinking before we listen. Why not? Being aware of your own listening and thinking through strategies to help you pay better attention and retain more information makes a lot of sense! There are several strategies available to help you think about your listening.

We covered two strategies already, knowing your barriers and your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats –  if you know yourself and how you typically listen, then you are much better able to catch mistakes and correct them. Review these lists and your answers – are you doing better? How can you keep improving?

Another strategy, something you can do before every conversation, is to plan for how you are going to listen. Tell yourself, “I am going to have to really concentrate. I will paraphrase to help me remember and ask questions when I need more information.” Just like you have a plan for how to get to work in the morning depending on traffic conditions, you should have a plan for how you will listen depending on the person with whom you will interact. Ever go to the grocery store without a list? Admit it, you get to the checkout and realize you just spent money on things you could do without! Don't spend your listening energy on things that don't pay dividends!

As you are interacting, remind yourself of your plan and reassess whether it is working to your advantage. Anything need tweaking? Do you need to make more eye contact? Ask more questions? Be more silent? Engage in more head nodding or signal your attentiveness in other ways?

After the interaction, assess how you did – anything need to change for next time? Any reminders you need to put into place to make subsequent conversations more efficient and successful?

Thinking about your listening is one of the best ways to become a professional listener! Your challenge for today is to focus on planning your listening interactions – problem solve when you are confused, and assess how you did as a listener in order to improve for next time. At the end of the day, ask yourself whether you have made progress and in what ways. Then implement a plan of attack for tomorrow. Rinse and repeat!