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Becoming a Better Listener

Listening is more than a skill. It's a communication tool that can influence the quantity and quality of information that customers and others give you. The following article will help you improve your "listenability."

Anthropological Listening

Have you ever had the distinct feeling that the person you were speaking to wasnít really listening? Were you convinced the person was a million miles away, give or take a hundred thousand? Has it ever gotten so bad that if your words went in one ear and out the other, it would be a step in the right direction?

Do you suppose other people have ever had that reaction when speaking to you?

For some reason, most of us are good at hearing, but really listening ó thatís another thing altogether. Yet in working with customers, listening, not just going through the motions, is critical to success. Here are some reminders:

Donít jump to conclusions. Jumping is so easy, especially if youíre inclined to think, What does this dingbat want this time? Resist the urge to turn off your mental hearing aid. A key part of caring listening is not to draw premature conclusions about either the person or what the person is saying. Some people never let facts stand in the way of a hasty conclusion. Are you one of them?

Donít interrupt. Make a commitment to keep the old trap shut and to listen as hard as you can. Test yourself by seeing how long you can do it. At first, 15 seconds will seem like an eternity. Then go for 30. Then an entire endless minute. You already know what you think; spouting off wonít help you understand the other personís perspective. Although remaining silent is chomping-at-the-bit difficult, you will learn much more by listening than if you constantly interject your own views.

Seek to know more. If you ask questions about what you heard, youíll end up with more complete information. If you donít have any questions, you can still draw the person out by asking, "What else can you tell me about that?" or "Is there anything else you think I should know?" Asking questions has an added benefit: It demonstrates to your listeners that you really were listening. Not that they had any reason to suspect otherwise, of course.

Make listening a conscious activity. Itís natural for your mind to wander, and even more natural to let it. You can reduce mental meandering, however, by cutting it short when you become aware of it. Every time you notice that your mind has wandered, respond immediately with a silent Oops, and resume listening. With practice, you can even train a little voice in your head to interrupt your wanderings and bring you back to the present. Do not engage in a conversation with this voice while others are around.

Pretend youíre a famous anthropologist. If worse comes to worse, and youíd rather have a root canal than listen for one more second, use this proven technique. Imagine youíve just arrived in a remote village as different as can be from where you live. Your mission is to make sense of the natives. Theyíre not like anyone youíve ever encountered before so you have to listen carefully. Try it. It works! (But do your best to keep a straight face, OK?)

Copyright © 2006 Karten Associates, www.nkarten.com. All rights reserved.

What's In a Name?

Iíve learned to live with it. Being misspelled, that is. When I called my doctorís office to schedule an appointment, the secretary asked for my last name. Karten, I said, and spelled it. Long pause while I was put on hold.

"Have you seen the doctor before?" she asked. Yes, I told her, heís been my doctor for 12 years. On hold again.

At length, she returned and asked for my last name again. K-a- r-t-e-n, I said. First initial? N, I said, as in Nancy. (I learned long ago that if I said "N as in Naomi," it only confused the already befuddled.) It was obvious she was striving mightily to coax the computer into submission.

"OK," she said at last, "here it is. I thought you said it was spelled with a C."

No, I told her, Iím quite certain I spelled my name correctly. Even my spell checker agreed.

Do you ever face spelling snafus? If so, maybe you find, as I do, that it never gets any less frustrating. I had a similar experience when I arrived at a hotel and the front desk chap told me I didnít have a reservation. I guided him to my reservation under the incorrect spelling (or maybe I should call it the correct misspelling).

I assumed heíd immediately correct it. Wrong. When my husband called, he was told there was no one there by that name. Fortunately, he knew the drill, but what if it had been my client calling to reschedule our meeting?

Once, when my husband and I were on vacation, we decided to stay a few days longer. He called the front desk to ask if we could keep the room. "Your name?" he was asked. He went through the with-a-K routine. "Nope," he was told, "Couldnít be. The computer has no record of it." My husband explained that he was calling from room 206 and weíd been there a week already. After a few more tries, the computer coughed up our records. It seems the front desk fellow had entered the K correctly, but got the rest wrong.

Once your name gets into the computer wrong, itís almost easier to change it to the wrong version than get it fixed. Clearly, though, the real culprit isnít the computer but the people using the computer. Itís people who donít listen. People who are too distracted to pay attention. People who already know the "right" answer, so they ignore what their customers tell them.

But after grousing about it for years, Iíve concluded that the only thing to do is to take more responsibility for the situation. So, now, when giving my name to Those Who Handle Records, I preface the spelling by emphasizing that my name is frequently misspelled and Iíd so appreciate it if theyíd record it correctly. This approach seems to help.

What about you? Do you ever spell names wrong because you didnít pay attention? As a member of the Frequently Misspelled, I feel a special obligation not to do to others what is so often done to me. And I confess, I still miss every now and then. But Iím trying.

(Signed) Your friend, Naomi Karten-with-a-K

Copyright © 2006 Karten Associates, www.nkarten.com. All rights reserved.

Karten Associates
Randolph, Mass., USA

Copyright © 2006 Karten Associates. All rights reserved.