In my line of work, good listening skills are a must. I impersonate people every day and am called on to convey hopes and dreams of organizations I do not work for. It requires talking with – and more importantly listening to – lots of people. So I was intrigued to recently come across an article originally published in the Harvard Business Review in 1957.
According to authors Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens, one of the barriers to listening well is that our brains are moving too fast. They write, “The average rate of speech for most Americans is around 125 words per minute. This rate is slow going for the human brain… This means that, when we listen, we ask our brain to receive words at an extremely slow pace compared with its capabilities… To phrase it another way, we can listen and still have some spare time for thinking.”
How we use the ‘spare time’ determines what we retain. And we can all be taught to use that spare time more wisely. Here are a few listening tips I’ve summarized from the article:
- Think ahead of the talker, and try to anticipate where the story is heading.
- Listen between the lines for meaning that is not necessarily present in the spoken words.
- Periodically review and summarize the points made.
- Don’t just listen for facts . . .listen for ideas.
And I’d like to add a few more that are especially important for nonprofit communicators:
- Listen for signs of our common humanity—find that one element of the story that will be recognizable and meaningful to others.
- Listen for impact . . .what role did your organization play in creating a good outcome in the situation?
- And, listen with your heart . . . recognize when a detail makes you feel something. That’s the detail that will open the hearts (and checkbooks) of your supporters.
And, here’s the really good news. Simply thinking about listening skills (as you just did by reading this article) makes you a better listener. You’re welcome, and happy listening!
-Posted by Kathy Swayze, CFRE @impactkathy