Becoming Better at Listening to and Learning From Others

The Greek philosopher Diogenes once said, “We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.” Being able to listen attentively is indeed a great trait to have, and is needed in order to truly be able to learn from the advice people may give. Having the ability to be a great listener magnifies your ability to learn as a result. This technique that I have learned over the years has improved my listening skills drastically.

The “3 Second” Rule

When I worked as a salesman for overpriced kitchen utilities years ago, I learned a few things that I could apply to life outside of the job.

Find your passion and purpose in life

I remember my supervisor training me on a “3-second” rule. The basis of the rule was to simply keep my mouth shut until the potential customer I was conversing with was finished talking for at least 3 seconds. I thought it sounded silly at first until I tried it and found out that I could learn so much more about the customer and how to fulfill their needs in the kitchen.

Before I knew, what had begun as a struggle to close sales transformed into a smooth sailing conversation with a customer that almost always ended in a purchase. All because I waited for people to express all of their thoughts before giving my input. Before I learned this tactic, I only closed 2 sales for the entire month of May. After applying it, I finished the year as the top-selling associate in my office. I naturally learned more about my customers and became monumentally better at my job by just listening 3 seconds longer.

Maintaining Eye Contact

Being a great listener is not just shown by shutting your lips. You can, and should, show you are paying attention through other physical cues. Looking at the ceiling the entire time someone is talking to you will inevitably result in that person believing that you are not listening to a word of what they are saying.

This being said, try not to stare too long in someone’s eyes in a creepy way. Staring someone in the eyes for too long tends to make the conversation uncomfortable or awkward.

Michigan State University mentions a 50/70 rule: you look into someone’s eyes 50% of the time while speaking and 70% of the time you are listening to them. MSU also suggested a 4-5 second “duration per stare” before glancing off to the side and re-establishing eye-contact.

Keeping eye contact while someone is speaking to you shows that you are paying attention to and care about what they have to say.

Confirm That You Understand

I remember a day in high school when I told my chemistry teacher that I understood what he had just explained, even though I was beyond confused as to why chemical X would combust if mixed with chemical Y.

It’s easy to let a conversation combust if you tell the person you understand what they are saying when in reality you have no idea what they are talking about. All you are doing by not reflecting on what the person just said is digging a deep hole of confusion for yourself. Reflect and restate what someone just told you so you can fully understand what that person is trying to say.

Someone that says to you, “I believe that your productivity can increase by utilizing Excel to the fullest of its ability.”

Your response that would confirm your understanding would be something like, “So I should learn the ins and outs of Excel and use it for most of my tasks instead of writing everything down and using a calculator?”

Essentially, you are repeating what that person just told you, applied it to your current situation, and asked for confirmation. This shows that you listened to everything that person just said.

Open Yourself to Learning and Coaching

After becoming a good listener, learning is something that occurs naturally while perking up your ears.

As I stated in my example earlier, as I became a better listener with my customers, I was able to understand what they needed and how I could help them even better. Detach yourself from insecurity, because nobody is perfect.

But there is always room for improvement. And you can use anyone’s words and time to help you achieve whatever you wish to achieve. Conversation by conversation, you will take something out of everything and apply in your life or Find your passion and purpose in life. That is progression. That is learning.

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