Learning to Listen

I teach an intro to agricultural sales college course and much of that course is devoted to the science of sales, buyer’s behavior research, sales structuring, etc. However, about half of the course is also devoted to trust building, leadership and management and communication skill building.  The one skill that I see most people and youth today (people of all ages) lacking in sales and in society in general is listening abilities. 

“You need to learn to listen to hear and understand. Not to respond.”

This quote is mine, all mine and I truly believe in it.  Too often we are  so busy thinking about what we want to say back to someone who is trying to communicate with us; or we are thinking about how to defend, argue, criticize, shame, or just to respond to respond, etc. and we miss the entire conversation!  How much of our past conflict is due to miss-communication, aka not listening?  I would argue around 85-90%.

Why is this so hard?  Why is listening to someone such a challenge for so many of us?  For all of us?  I struggle daily and have to remind myself to focus and truly listen when people are talking to me.  To hear them, to understand them, to learn about their needs, ideas, concerns, etc.  I cannot affectively help them or work with them if I am not really listening to them. 

I have found myself failing at this at home.  I do not listen very well to my children.  I am a sucky parent listener.  PERIOD.  However, what I have found, is that if I stop what I am doing, look my kids in the eyes and listen to hear them (no matter the topic) I can still obviously tell them “not happening” but they respond better to me and the situation because they have been or felt heard.  But I won’t lie, this takes a lot of patience, time and practice. 

With adults, I find they are already waiting in anticipation to respond to you when they have not heard you.  I think that if you have respect for someone, you should be able to listen to them to understand.  Most people deserve at least that, to be heard. 

I can tell with adults (now) who is truly listening and who is not.  It is by their body language, eye contact, their attentiveness, their breathing, etc.  You can tell when someone is not listening.  Or when someone is just dying to jump in or cut you off.    

Do you listen to respond, or do you listen to understand?  I challenge you to think more deeply about that question and especially how it relates to your communication with your families, loved ones, co-workers, etc.  If you are the type of person who is always waiting to fire back a response, I would encourage you to count to 3 in your head or take a couple deep breaths and your conversation with the statement, “I understand you are ……..”  Work on those listening skills people and help teach your children to listen to understand not fire back. We know that once words are said, especially hurtful words, you cannot take them back. People do not feel valued if they are not heard.  Give it a try, learn to listen to understand. 

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