By Craig Kitch, www.craigkitch.com
There is nothing more fruitful for your business or career than the art of active listening. Unfortunately, most people would rather talk than listen and that’s why most people live lives of mediocrity. You learn nothing when your mouth is moving but you can acquire vast amounts of knowledge by simply listening attentively. How many sales people have you dealt with that put so much effort into telling you about their product or service that they never even asked what your needs were? Whether you are selling a product, managing people or simply trying to understand your coworkers, there is no skill more valuable to have in your bailiwick than that of being a good listener.
The good news is that you can learn to be a good listener; the bad news is that your own physiology is working against you. Research I have seen indicates that the average person can listen at a rate of up to 600 words per minute, but the average human being only speaks at about 125 words per minute. That is a pretty substantial difference, so what happens is that you are speaking at about one fifth of my brain’s capacity to understand. I compensate by thinking about my response while I am waiting for you to finish. We call this the “Response Gap”. The net effect is that while I am formulating my response, I almost invariably miss some important piece of information that you were trying to convey and everything rolls down hill from there.
In his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Dr. Stephen Covey urged us to “first seek to understand, then to be understood”. In other words: listen first, talk later. The next time you have a meeting with someone, play a little game. See if you can get them to do most of the talking and you do most of the listening. Two things will probably happen. First, the other person will walk away feeling great about the meeting (whoever does most of the talking seems to think it was a great meeting). Secondly, you will learn some valuable information that you have missed in previous conversations with that person. Your goal is to get the other person to do at least 70% of the talking. It won’t be easy because your natural tendency is to want to share your vast wisdom and knowledge with the world. But I guarantee that if you will fight the urge to yak, you’ll be amazed at how much free information is available to you. Therefore, it is with a wry grin that I exhort you to “shut your mouth and listen”.
Craig Kitch works with managers to reduce conflict and improve communication so that everyone can stay focused on their jobs. He began his professional life as a broadcaster, where he learned the power of the spoken word. He took those skills with him into the hospitality industry where he had a very successful career for over 20 years. Working in management, Craig developed the skills necessary to pull teams of people together and lead them to accomplish ambitious goals. He eventually became a “turn around specialist”, using those skills to remedy problematic properties.
Today Craig runs his own business, Kitch and Associates, and is dedicated to improving the lives of managers. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Greater Nashville Hotel and Lodging Association