Be an Excellent Listener

I watched a show last night called “Suits” – an implausible premise where a guy who looks like he is 16 gets a job at a high end law firm even though he has never gone to law school. He teams up with another guy who looks a little older and apparently has gone to law school. From what I can tell, part of the character development is to show the differences between these two men.

In the pilot, the younger non-trained “lawyer” was going to interview a plaintiff in a sexual harassment case. The older attorney was training him and said, “You just have to get the facts. You don’t have to care about them.” The younger guy (yes if I cared about the show I would know their names) surprised them both and came back with information from not only the plaintiff but also quite a bit of information from a rather difficult witness. The older attorney, in some disbelief, said, “How did you get that information?” The younger fellow thought about if for a moment and said, “I guess I cared about her.”

I teach classes on listening skills. A couple different times I have had people say to me with some surprise as they begin to truly understand the skill of listening, “Oh; I have to care about what they are saying.”

The skill of listening is multifaceted. What we are discussing today is just one piece of the skill set. It is imperative, in listening, to have an attitude of curiosity. Without an attitude of curiosity, we don’t really listen. Most of us approach most conversations believing we already know what the person is about to say or what the person is thinking or what the person should do or how the person feels or all of the above. We make up in our heads 97% of what’s happening for other people. Recognizing this is step one to the skill of excellent listening.

The remedy, if you are intending to be a great listener in any conversation, is to be curious. Not just act curious, but be curious. That means you must at least preask questionstend to yourself that you do not already know or understand what they are saying and why they are saying it. It is also helpful if you don’t try to figure out the answer too early. Instead of looking for answers, try this: ask questions. Curiosity is not a mindset many of us have as adults. Children are very curious. But somehow we lose it as we mature and this is a large part of why we don’t listen well.

We’re in a hurry and we don’t really hear people. We have surface conversations and believe we are listening because we have made up what the other person is saying in our own heads.

Here’s the bottom line of truly excellent listening. You really do have to care. I don’t mean that you have to love the person or care for their welfare or care about their success or be in a deep relationship with them or even like them. I mean, you have to care what’s happening for them. You have to care what they are trying to say and what is most important to them in that moment.

If you care what is happening for another person and you then try to find out genuinely and curiously what that is, you will be on your way to being an excellent listener.

Just like that guy on “Suits.”
Speaking of listening….

If you live in Sacramento, we will have a McLaren Coaching commsocunication workshop on July 14 and August 1 — same workshop with 2 dates to choose from. Click here to learn more:

Click here to register:

Once you register, you will begin receiving educational materials on the substance of the training.

About the Author

Picture of Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching professionals and leaders since early 2008. She runs Transformative Coaching Essentials, a coach training program that produces first rate Professional Coaches and "Coach-Style Leaders." She coaches individually and works with organizations to improve communication, time management, productivity and ultimately bring greater results.

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