Listening is one of the most overlooked skills in existence. We often think we’re doing a great job of it, but don’t realize we’re losing points with someone without even knowing it. What points am I referring to here? I’m talking about trust points. Think of listening as a product or service and trust as the currency. When the trust is low, your opinion or ear isn’t as valuable. When the trust is high, the value of your opinion and what you have to say goes up.
People will think of you first when they have a problem the same way they have go-to products and services when they need solutions. Or at the very least, they won’t go through a period of hesitation before bringing an issue to the table. Think of this as being on the fence about a purchase, looking up better deals, then taking the business elsewhere because you realize that if you have to think about it, it probably isn’t a good idea. You don’t want people to think before speaking with you about something going on with them.
How quality is your ear and how valuable is your trust? Are you sure that you’re developing a reputation for reliability and a warranty free of fine-print loopholes?
Whether it be friends, family, or a significant other, there’s a good chance you’ve had to play the role of “the ear.” There’s at least one person that turns to you when they’re looking to solve a problem or need to vent. If nobody’ turning to you to discuss what’s going on in their life — however minute it may be — then the value of your trust is low…or you’re a hermit in a house on the prairie. I’m not gonna make that assumption, because I know you’re better than that. And assumption is something that’s a huge part of the problem.
We use our past experiences to predict the future even when we’re talking to a person that grew up under a completely different circumstances with their own unique DNA. What’s happened in our past subconsciously becomes our future fact even when it’s not about us. This buried mindset can cause us to lose one of the most valuable assets we have. I’ve got to once again thank the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for this realization.
What’s our fact isn’t necessarily their fact. Our brains are wired to think in terms of our own past experiences even when we’re not the subkect. We get into a conversation, hear a few words, then immediately think to ourselves “I’ve seen this before. I know exact what I’m gonna say when they’re done.” At this point, as much as we’re appearing attentive and hearing every word they’ve said, we’ve made a decision to stop listening. We let them continue get to the end of their point so we can say what we’ve had on our mind as a solution for the last five or ten minutes.
On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that. I have a bad memory sometimes, so it’s a struggle to remember every valid point I wanna make. But at the end of the day, if I feel that I’m right and spitting the purest of truth crack, does it even matter if he or she feels there’s no point in talking to me about the subject anymore? Particularly because I’ve conveyed I don’t know how to understand? It’s possible that I do. But because I’ve let him or her go on and on without acknowledging or rephrashing what they’ve said to show that I understand in my own terms, they feel that I failed at listening. He or she goes from looking for me to help, to feeling helpless. Anything I say from this point forward is moot and we’re right back at square one — maybe even negative one. I’ve lost points without even knowing.
Once someone feels that you’re not truly listening to them, you might as well be a fish out of water. It may not be to the point where they don’t tell you anything anymore. But, if it happens enough times, best believe they’ll start thinking more before they talk to you. And when it comes to relationships — romantic or otherwise — you don’t want someone important in your life to have to think before they speak to you about something important to them. You’ll get much more out of people by empathetically listening than you will by asking a predetermined or routine set of questions.
I can look back and say I haven’t been as great about this as I’d like. Going forward, I know there will still be times when I’m thinking to myself “get to the point,” but it’s gonna be a much more concerted effort to truly hear what he or she is saying and respond in a way that they feel understood. Trust is a currency invincible to inflation. It can also be a house built on toothpicks. It doesn’t take much to lose trust points with people, so you should try to treat every conversation like it’s a make or break situation.
And if you feel that a conversation isn’t going anywhere or that you’re not getting enough to work with, it’s fine to say “I really don’t understand what you’re saying. Is it possible to explain this to me in a different way?” They may think you should get it. But even if they experience a temporary frustration with you, they’ll remember later on that you put effort into understanding where they’re coming from. They’ll trust that over time you’ll get to know them better and the words not understood today will be part of your language tomorrow.
Listening While I Work,
P.S. Check out my latest post for UPTOWN Magazine: 3 Things Men Really Want, But May Not Tell You. Also, if you’re in NYC, make sure you come out to the SBM Happy Hour at Empire Room on Friday from 6-10pm. It’s gonna be a dope time. Please RSVP here, where you’ll also be kept in the loop about future SBM events.