My name is Samantha Walters and I am what you would consider a “millennial executive” over here at Colocation America. Every Monday (get it, get it, Samantha on Mondays – the S.O.M column) I will write a little something on whatever is on my mind from business practices to current events and everything else in between.
This week’s topic – listening and observing.
This week’s topic is brought to you by a NSFW conversation. To sum it up, my friend and I were talking and she decided to tell me a “secret.” After hearing her revelation, I chuckled and said “I already knew that but thank you for confirming it.” Of course she was baffled, she thought she had done such a great job hiding this “secret” from everyone. I then had to explain that I observe and listen to things going on around me. I noticed her body language, I listened when she said she would stay at the bar, and I observed the way she interacted with, let’s say, others.
Ok, fine, yes, I do sound a bit like a stalker but I can’t help it, I pay attention to my surroundings. I have discovered that actively listening and observing can help me in business, in my personal life, and, even, can keep me safe. Right now I am sure you are thinking, “well I listen and observe, what are you getting at?” But do you really?
Let’s play a little game – let’s see how much you remember in your office. Get a pen and paper and leave the room. Don’t cheat, just get up and leave, I’ll wait…. waiting… waiting… Great, you’re back! Now look around the room, did you miss anything? Did you remember your stapler? How about your mouse?
It’s crazy that we can sit in the same room every day and yet not fully observe. In business, observing a small detail can mean closing the deal vs not closing the deal. For example, one of the easiest things to observe is a ring on that particular left finger. That little ring can tell you a lot about a person and help guide a conversation and may even change the way you approach someone. At a networking event, I always observe where and how people stand – are they alone? Are they closed off? This tells me if someone wants to talk or not.
In my office, I try to really observe my staff every day. Again, I know, stalker-ish but useful. For example, the way my staff member is dressed that day can tell me a lot about what they plan on doing and/or how they are feeling. Do you put on full makeup when you feel like sh*t? If you had a little too much to drink the night before, are you not more sluggish? It’s paying attention to that stuff that can influence your choices and how you engage with others.
But observations can only help so much. Once you actually talk to someone, do you listen to what they say? Sure you hear them but are you really listening?
It’s time for another game – go to your music program or however you listen to music. Now play a song that you have heard many times before. Sing along, rock out, dance a little, and enjoy it. While you do that, I will rock out to “Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on…”
*4 minutes later*
How was your rock out session? Can you tell me what the song is about? What is your favorite line? Is there any play on words? Now, go back and replay the song but this time listen to words.
*Another 4 minutes later*
What did you hear this time?
When you actually listen to words chances are you learned a lot more about the song. It’s the same when you listen to people. In the study of listening, it is called effective listening. According to Wright State University, effective listening is actively absorbing the information given to you by the speaker, showing you are listening and interested, and providing feedback to the speaker so they know you have listened. Essentially, effective listening is showing the speaker that you heard and understood what they said.
Many times in marriage counseling (or so I hear, I am as single as they come), counselors work with the couples on actually listening to their partner. They do a lot of “I heard you say BLANK”, “I feel BLANK”, “When you say BLANK, I feel BLANK” and so on. It is all about effective communication where the other person feels that what they say was heard and has value.
In the workplace, effective listening is in the toolbox of every successful individual. For example, when a client voices a problem, one must listen to what they say; each client’s problems are unique (even if you have “heard it” 100xs). Now I do not mean just listen to what they say in the first 5 seconds and then assume you know the rest of the conversation. I mean, actually listening. If needed, take notes. If the conversation is over the phone, don’t answer email while on the phone, actually listen. If you are in person, put down your phone and look the other person in the eye and then listen. Once you are done listening (aka the person stopped talking), if it makes sense in the conversation, practice “reflecting” (in lamest terms paraphrase) and then start talking. You may be able to solve that person’s problem.
Need some practice? Go to a co-worker and ask them how their weekend was. When they answer, do not just say “great” and walk away, ask them more questions that relate to what they said. Do not, and I repeat, do not, then talk about yourself. I know it’s hard but think about it. When someone asks you how your weekend was and immediately after answering, they launch into what they did and blah, blah, blah, does it make you feel like they listened or do you think they just wanted to talk about themselves but felt it was polite to ask you first? Chances are you don’t think they listened all too well. Instead, ask them an additional question about what they did and continue the conversation. Show interest. Show you care.
Ah, great question! It is these soft skills that can make a world of difference. The world is a big place but when you do not listen or observe, you are missing out on a lot. Try harder to observe your surroundings, it will help you see what is there not what you THINK is there. When someone talks, listen. Most likely, you will learn something from the other person or, hey, it may even spark the next big idea!
The possibilities are endless when you use your eyes, ears, and brain. Do not just be there, engage and who knows what will happen. For one thing, a person will feel like you care about them and all you did was a bit more attention.