I was out for lunch a few weeks ago with a business acquaintance. Through the course of our lunch the conversation drifted from current project work to family, to passions, to discussing important skills that we thought well.. make successful people successful. I engaged him further by asking him this: “What, according to you, is the most important skill that differentiates a successful salesperson from the rest?”
His answer was simple: The skill of LISTENING
Listening!? Not exactly the response I expected but the answer resonated. The thought of successful salespeople conjure up images of the famed Alec Baldwin’s ‘Always Be Closing’ scene from Glengarry Glen Ross or Leo’s outstanding phone skills in ‘Wolf Of Wallstreet’. Hell! if I asked you to name me someone successful I’m pretty certain that you would reference someone who ‘talks’ eloquently. In reality, however, one of the best kept secrets of successful people (not just salespeople) is their ability to ‘listen’ effectively.
If you want to become great at interaction you need to first acknowledge and understand the importance of listening and then learn how to become great at it. Have you ever really taken the time out to become aware of how you listen? I wouldn’t be surprised if you said “No”. I can tell you this, ever since I recognized its importance a few years ago I have used listening to 10x my ability to have deeper interactions. But more on that later. First, lets see how good of a listener you are:
The ultra quick listening test
- Do you find yourself interrupting a person a lot when she is talking? (Yes / No)
- Do you find that your mind wanders 10 – 15 mins into a presentation, talk or discussion? (Yes / No)
- In conversation with a spouse (relative) or client (business partner) do you find yourself doing a majority of the talking? (Yes / No)
If you have answered ‘Yes’ to the above questions you know you have room to become better at listening. I can almost hear many wives (girlfriends) saying YES to question 3. Husband’s (boyfriend’s) kindly re-visit Question 2 if you have answered NO to Question 3. Busted!
So, what does it really mean to be a good listener? It pays to remember that we are blessed with two ears and one mouth. The human body is telling us something – ‘Listen more talk less’. It is by design – let’s not fight it. When I embarked on trying to make myself a better listener, I started first by observing people and noting key traits in good listeners. Here’s what I found all good listeners to do:
- Always give you the sense that they are in the moment with you: When you are talking to a good listener they are always respectful and let you complete your thoughts. They give you the sense of being present and engage with you with their eyes not their mouths.
- Asks more questions than give opinions: If you want to be the most interesting person at a party – ask the best questions and then shut up. That and ‘bust out your funky dance moves’ (NO! I am not going to get into the specifics of how good listeners do the ‘Gangnam Style’!). Dance moves aside, good listeners ask more questions and speak when they feel they have earned the right to comment.
- Are great with empathy: Good listeners tend to have a better handle on their emotions overall and are strong at being empathetic. They are quick to put themselves in your shoes and get a sense of where you are and respond accordingly. They engage in conversation with an open-mind.
So why, you may ask, is being a good listener so important? It is simple really. A MAJORITY OF SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE ARE GREAT LISTENERS! If that isn’t enough I am diarizing a few more benefits below. Being a great listener allows you to:
- Respond better to the needs to the person you are interacting with
- Establish deeper more meaningful relationships
- Rapidly develop a trusted advisor relationships with colleagues, clients, suppliers and business partners. (Think about how Leo won over the client’s trust over the phones)
- Become the “<insert name>, only you seem to get me” person
- Become a confidant that people come to in times of need
…the list goes on.
So how does the TV Show F.R.I.E.N.D.S figure into an article on Listening skills? Let me show you. First, If you have never watched the TV Show F.R.I.E.N.D.S (arguably the most successful TV sitcom) – Shame on you! If your excuse involves your age – Shame on you for giving excuses! Go watch this ‘Funniest Friends Moments’ (Warning: It is an hour long and seriously addictive) and if you really want to geek out a little then check out the character profiles at ‘Friends Characters’ If that isn’t enough geek for you then here you go ‘All Episode Summaries On A Single Page’
Having grown up watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S episodes on repeat I grew to love the characters and storyline. When I learned that psychologists have conducted investigations around the cultural impact of the show, it only seemed fitting and fun to explore the listening prowess of these famed TV show characters. So here we go:
|Character||Key listening traits||My rating|
She likes to talk but not always about herself. She balances
out her talking with playing the supportive friend when
called for. She is more mature (not to mention her interest
in ahem! mature men).
|Chandler||He is a good observer of his environment and reads|
situations well. This lends to his good listening abilities. But
think about it he almost has to be a good listener because
how else would he have been able to get with Monica and
marry her? He listens and makes sure he responds with quick
wit and humour.
| Rachel|| Her listening skills has a direct correlation to her questionable|
basic life skills. This means that most things spoken in
conversation was ‘news’ or ‘information’ for her – so she
listened. That and there was no way she could handle the
Gellar siblings if she was a poor listener.
|Ross||He is an intelligent, hopeless romantic who wallows in self|
pity. If you are thinking too much about yourself the chances
of you being a good listener are almost slim. He loves talking
more about his problematic situations instead of listening to
others. But I’m glad he is who he is as there would be no
F.R.I.E.N.D.S without Ross.
|Joey|| Joey’s listening abilities need little explanation. From his|
funny pick up lines to the infamous ‘How You Doin?’
Trademark, if there is one thing Joey can do it is ‘talk’. But I
must commend him on the marked improvement towards
the end of the series. He didn’t get there without some serious
Phoebe is empathetic. Ignore her constant need to burst into
uncontrollable laughter and what you see is a woman with
strong emotional intelligence and a problem solver. She is also
kindhearted and puts the needs of others before her own.
|Gunther|| Who doesn’t like this barista? One look at him and you know|
that he is an exceptional listener (almost bordering on creepy).
It is almost as if his ears were designed for eavesdropping.
Gunther’s flaw, however, lies in his inability to respond and
So there you have it – my F.R.I.E.N.D.S character debrief (Listening special).
How can I become as good as Phoebe (or Gunther..uhmm) you may ask? I encourage you to use my LISTENING CHECKLIST to 10x your listening skills and deepen your interactions:
- Take Notes: Few people do. By taking down notes when talking to people you move from being a passive listener to an active listener. The practice of writing things down during conversation also allows you to draw connections quicker. Fringe benefits include always having a record of a conversation as a reference tool. Good note taking immediately sets you apart from the crowd.
- Ask Genuine Questions: Start by asking genuine open-ended questions and listen actively for responses. The key here is asking genuine questions. Be authentic and not flaky. On getting responses drill down further using more open-ended questions e.g: Why do you think that…? What do you think about…? etc.
- Use The ‘I’m Sorry’ Technique: Always wait for the other person to complete her entire thought before you respond. This is hard. You will almost instinctively feel the need to interject – DON’T. One technique I have adopted to make myself more self aware of interrupting is by apologizing to the person I am talking with e.g: “I am sorry I cut-in there but..” While there is no excuse to interruption the I’m Sorry Technique allows for you to move the mic back to the other person mid-conversation. Using this technique has made me self aware and allowed me to drastically drop the number of times I interrupt someone’s thought or sentence. If you feel the urge to interrupt refer back to Point 1 (Take Notes). Put your questions down on paper.
- Observe Emotions: Be sensitive to the emotional state of the person you are conversing with. Is she happy, sad, tired etc. Being aware of a person’s emotional state allows for you to change the questions you ask and allows for you to set the empathy notch to the right levels.
So tell me……Which F.R.I.E.N.D.S characters do you think you represent (be honest here)? What is the one thing you will you do to become a better listener?