Personal Development

How to Be an Expert Listener and Boost Your Influence

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Go ahead and admit it.

You harbor a deep desire to increase your influence with those around you.

You're craving their admiration, respect, and loyalty. You secretly wish that your spoken word could move people like Warren Buffet move markets with a single sentence.

You don't need to become Warren Buffet to become an influencer. All you need is the willingness to open your mind, heart, and ears so that others can feel heard by you – you must become an expert at listening.

expert_listenerWhy? Because good listening habits build great relationships – the foundation for success as a leader and influencer.

Here are four steps to becoming a better listener:

Step 1: Realize that you might not be as good a listener as you think

People like to think of themselves as good listeners, but according to Diana Bonet, author of Business of Listening, studies show that on average we effectively listen 25% of the time. The rest of what we hear is either forgotten, ignored, or misunderstood. Our overconfidence in our listening skills actually reduces our ability to listen well.

Bonet maintains that even great listeners cannot maintain 100% efficiency for very long, if at all.  The first step to good listening is to realize that it takes work to listen well "” that listening is not simply the passive act of sound reaching the ear, but a complex process involving intention, attention, and interpretation.

If you feel a little fatigued after giving someone the gift of your undivided attention, you're on the right track.

Step 2: Get comfortable with silence

As it relates to listening, silence can be a problem for two reasons:

1. We run from silence because we are afraid to listen to ourselves "” our own thoughts and feelings that often come to the surface when we're silent or alone.

2.     We are uncomfortable with silence in our conversations with people because it feels
awkward and uncomfortable.

One of the keys to becoming a better listener is to become comfortable with silence "” or rather, become comfortable with listening to our own inner voices.

Think of the numerous times you interrupted someone's silence during a conversation because the voice in your own head started piping up with statements that revealed your own insecurities or discomforts. Also, recall the times when you resisted speaking only to have a profound breakthrough or insight from the speaker because you allowed them to complete their thought uninterrupted.

Resist the urge to interrupt and you'll be amazed by the profound that lives inside each of us, waiting for a chance to be heard.

Step 3: Become aware of your filters

We all have filters "” our biases and general outlook on the world that may cause us to filter out parts of what someone says, thereby diminishing good communication. Some common filters include:

Preconceived notions
Emotional states
Personal interests and needs

These filters manifest themselves most often in the desire to fix rather than truly being present.

The desire to fix often flows from a heavy focus on one's ego. For instance, a person who is tempted by the need to feel important may try to impress, educate, advise, console, or interrogate. On the other hand, a person feeling exposed or vulnerable may shut down communication altogether by downplaying concerns.

These manifestations are subtle and deceptive because on the surface they appear to be helpful. Instead, the speaker may walk away feeling hijacked by your attempts to be helpful.

The most effective listeners know a powerful secret "” listening is a state of being, not of doing.

In her book Holy Listening, Margaret Guenther writes, "We value action for its own sake." The expert listener knows that not everything can be fixed or made right but that listening for its own sake can allow the speaker to come to their own conclusions, make up their own mind, or come to terms with their own circumstances.

Step 4: Seek first to understand

Steven Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, points out that we dedicate years of our lives learning to read, write, and speak. But most of us are not taught how to listen. Furthermore, many listening training programs emphasize the technical aspects of listening such as maintaining eye contact, nodding the head, mimicking the speaker, etc.

These may help us to appear to be listening but may come across as phony to others if the techniques are divorced from what Covey calls "the character base and the relationship base." In short, listening techniques must flow from the fact that you truly want to listen and that you care about the person and what they have to say.

Covey speaks of empathetic listening, which is listening with the primary intent to understand rather than reply. It means truly listening from the other person's point of view or "frame of reference." This kind of listening increases understanding and deepens relationships.

Does this sound like too much of an emotional investment, especially if the relationship is on an acquaintance level? Consider Dale Carnegie's classic How To Win Friends and Influence People.

Carnegie and Covey agree that if you want to increase your influence with those around you, you must first become genuinely interested in them.

In other words, you must earn the right to be heard by first hearing and sincerely seeking to understand. Influence starts with understanding the people you're trying to influence.

Your Path To Influence

The path to influence is not as daunting as you might think.

All you need is the desire to know people on a deeper level.

Learn to listen and you'll learn their frustrations, their dreams, and their desires.

You'll increase your ability to understand them.

You'll earn their respect and admiration.

And because you go to such great lengths to listen to them, they'll happily listen to you.

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About the author

Cylon George

Cylon is a spiritual chaplain, musician, devoted husband, and busy dad of six. He blogs about practical spiritual tips for living well at Spiritual Living For Busy People - sign up and get his free guide 20 Little Tricks To Instantly Improve Your Mood Even If You Feel Like Punching Something (or Someone).