Do You Suck At Listening? (Probably)

“Silence is the language of god, all else is poor translation.”

Rumi

Most people suck at listening. Like really suck. When they aren’t talking, they are thinking about what they want to say next. That’s not listening—that’s just silent talking.

Listening is active and engaged. It provides feedback and encouragement that continues the conversation to new places. It is flowing and full of energy. It is present.

What’s ironic, even paradoxical, about listening is it is far more powerful than talking when it comes to persuasion.

In fact, you can say only a handful of words over the course of a hour-long conversation and the person that did most of the talking will think you are a great conversationalist.

Socrates asked questions to make his point. He let the other man do the talking, and through his use of leading questions and listening to the responses, the man end up speaking what Socrates didn’t need to say himself.

Considering that most people are terrible listeners, the fact remains that the more you speak the less you successfully communicate. If most people can’t pay attention to what you are saying because they are so stuck in their head thinking about what they want to say, your words are mostly lost on them. So, if your goal is to persuade and get your ideas actually “heard” you need to become a better listener. It’s really as simple as that.

Say less, nod and agree more and when you do talk, get to the point, use a strong voice and captivate your listener.

I would rather say less while having rapt attention than to speak profusely while being mostly ignored. And from what I’ve learned, and seen in first-hand experience, the latter is more effective and powerful.

Tips for conversation:

1. Don’t interrupt.

I know you are so anxious to get your words in, but interrupting breeds resent and contempt. It isn’t effective for persuasion, leadership, or making friends.

2. Don’t answer so fast.

Learn to say, “Hmm, that’s a great question. I’ll have to think about it.” The charlatan always has an answer, and as a result, his answers fall on skeptical ears. The willingness to show your vulnerability in not knowing something immediately shows your wisdom, and leads people to trust you more willingly than if you were to just word vomit whatever comes to your head because you think it “sounds good.”

3. Use fewer, and smaller, words.

Like great writing, powerful speaking does not need ten-dollar words or elaborate soliloquies to convey a powerful message. In fact, both detract from your message. Listen to a famous speech by MLK or JFK and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

4. When listening to others, do the following: Nod, raise your eyebrows, offer words of encouragement while listening such as “ya,” “really?” and “wow.”

I read a line in Robert Greene’s amazing book, The 48 Laws of Power, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. It goes like this, “The ability to express wonder and amazement, and seem like you mean it, is a rare and dying talent, but one still greatly valued.”

Think about this the next time you are having a conversation.

On that note, it’s time I wrap it up (as Chapelle would say).

Start becoming aware in your conversations. Notice the body language of your audience (which will give you all the cues you need for adjusting your part), how you are speaking, and most importantly, how well you are listening.

Awareness of the conversation and those in it will make you a better conversationalist, and as a result, a more persuasive and likable person.

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