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Why listening is better than talking

(MoneyWatch) "I don't think my colleagues listen. Any time they're silent, I just think they're loading their guns."

That is the way one banking executive described listening: The period during which you are figuring out how to take out your colleagues.

It's a shocking but, I suspect, not unusual view of listening. And yet listening is at least as important as speaking. Yet while executives endlessly get coaching in presentation skills, very few develop their listening skills. Which could, of course, explain a lot of routine miscommunication at work.

Being a world class listener isn't automatic or easy, so here are some ideas about how to develop your skills.

1. Promise yourself you won't speak. This is hard for some people who feel that silence makes them invisible. Strangely, I've rarely found this to be true. The less you speak, the more impact you make when you do.

2. Listen for underlying assumptions. What is the speaker taking for granted that might or might not be true? Are those assumptions valid, fair or have they even been checked?

3. Listen to rhythms and pace. If you listen to conversations as though they were music, their aural qualities will tell you a great deal about the underlying emotions. Who is tense and who is confident? Is the anger real?

4. Where are the blockages? Many people are poor at articulating their needs. They talk about what they think they need but not why. Try to hear the needs in a conversation, rather than the demands. When you understand needs, you are in a better position to deliver effectively.

Most of the disastrous client relationships I've witnessed occur when both parties start off full of good intentions -- and then don't listen. There is always plenty of talk but very little communication. And there's always a lot of posturing.

Is listening easier than talking? I don't think so. But what I have found is that if you listen well, you always end up with something meaningful to say. That's rarely true of the rest of the room.

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