Posts Tagged ‘listening skills’
The stories you tell engage the brains of your listeners. That’s a fact; consequently, the better you are at storytelling, the more likely it is that people will listen to you.
If we use colorful language and metaphors, we engage different parts of the brain. For example, “She held a bunch of lilacs that smelled like the sachet hidden beneath my grandmother’s pillow.” Or, “His presentation was like a bowl of pasta, a big blob with no beginning or end.”
Now, whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That’s why metaphors work so well with us. Whilst we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, disgust or else.
If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up, if it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active:
“Metaphors like ‘The singer had a velvet voice’ and ‘He had leathery hands’ roused the sensory cortex. […] Then, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like ‘John grasped the object’ and ‘Pablo kicked the ball.’ The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements.”
What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains by Leo Widrich, 12/29/12 on Buffer
And then there are our friends, mirror neurons. The brain of a person telling the story and the brain of the listener synchronize. Uri Hasson, from Princeton University, and someone whose work I really enjoy, says that the storyteller can plant ideas and feelings into the listener’s brain, by the use of words.
Think of yourself at work and what you respond to. In one case a scientist says, “My experiment is showing compound x to be effective for people with hiccups.” How different would your brain react if that scientist says, “I’ve spent five years on compound x and now I can safely say that twenty of thirty people in the control group are hiccup free.” In the latter example, various parts of the brain would be stimulated, increasing memory and sustained interest.
Two additional fascinating points that Widrich makes in his article:
- Simple stories, like single-tasking, make it easier for the brain to follow. “Reduce the number of adjectives or complicated nouns in a presentation or article and exchange them with more simple, yet heartfelt language.” The notion that a picture is worth a thousand words comes to mind when you’re trying to get the listener to focus on your main point. The picture reinforces clear, powerful, and authentic language.
- “Some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. This means, that the frontal cortex – the area of your brain responsible to experience emotions, can’t be activated with these phrases.”
Storytelling is not only engaging and motivating to the listener, it brings out the creative side of the speaker.
When I’m sent similar information about listening and listening skills within a short span of time, I take note. These two recently received pieces are worth thinking about and sharing:
The “third ear,” a concept introduced by psychoanalyst Theodor Reik, refers to the practice of listening for the deeper layers of meaning in order to glean what has not been said outright. It means perceiving the emotional underpinnings conveyed when someone is speaking to you. (The Third Ear: A Powerful Tool to Becoming a Better Listener by Bruna Martinuzzi in Open Forum, August 12, 2013.)
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” – Peter Drucker
It’s easier for some listeners to grasp emotional nuances than it is for others. Some folks just aren’t tuned into “the deeper layers of meaning,” even though they’re aware it’s a valuable skill.
Following are three tips to heed if/when you sense an emotional elephant in the room, but don’t know how to approach it:
Watch for physical changes in the other person. For example, someone might get red around the neck or ears, shuffle papers, look away, or alter body positioning. If there’s a marked change in body language, tone-of-voice or eye contact, let that be a signal that something may be up.
Ask questions rather than allowing the other person(s) to leave without getting to the real issue. Often, inadequate listeners don’t know what to do with underlying emotions, so they gloss over them. Have some questions to use in such circumstances. Don’t try to think of them on the spot if that’s not natural. For example, “What else might you want me to think about that you haven’t yet mentioned?” or “How has this conversation met your needs/wants?” or even, “You look as though you’re not quite finished. Am I reading that correctly? What’s left?”
Stay with the interaction until the person has left the room/area. If you turn your back or return to other work, you will end the interaction. Sometimes, the other person(s) has more to say—switching feet, standing but not walking, looking back, rifling papers, etc.—all indications there’s still more to address. Allow the other person to exit and you might even accompany the person to the door—such gestures indicate you care, want to share power, and are open for continued dialogue.
How do you listen with your third ear?
I walked into a new client’s office and immediately knew listening would be an issue for him. He was talking on the phone while looking for something on his desk, and then motioning for me to come in and sit on the chair he was clearing off for me.
Eventually, he too sat at the cluttered table. I asked him how he prepared to listen to people. As you would predict, he was clueless beyond saying, “I show up, as Woody Allen said.” That was a great opening for me to probe him about what Mr. Allen actually meant, not what the glib interpretation might be.
Actually, he didn’t show up, at least in the listening sense, which is dependent upon the listener to be engaged in the interaction. Here are three tips to assess if you’re prepared to listen:
- Do you devote all your attention to the interaction, whether in person or over the phone? That means no other devices are in play, posture is upright and squared to the speaker, and eyes are connected. Connected eyes look at the speaker, read what’s going on internally, but not staring. Staring is often vacant, rude, and can be invasive.
- Do you know why you’re there to listen? This client would go from meeting to meeting without a clue about what he was to listen for. He wasted so much time, his own and others, by not learning beforehand the purpose of the interaction. Just by asking at the start, “What is the purpose of this meeting, and what do we intend to accomplish?” changed both his preparation and the outcomes.
- Is this a good time? Obviously, my client wasn’t at all ready for me to meet with him. He had pressing issues that would weigh on his mind, and nothing else was as important. You do better service by saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t be a good listening partner right now. How about after lunch when I’ve taken care of this matter?”
Oh, and don’t forget to smile, ask questions, and paraphrase. But those are for another time.
What do you do to be a prepared listener?
How Listening Behavior of Salespeople Affects Relationship Outcomes: Listening Skills in the Workplace
I came across this piece of research and thought two of the fresh points add to our discussion about listening. Although the research was aimed at salespeople, the findings are relevant to everyone.
Summary of the research:
Rosemary Ramsey of Eastern Kentucky University and Ravipreet Sohi of University of Nebraska, Lincoln, conducted research to determine how the perceived listening behavior of salespeople affects relationship outcomes. They defined several components of sales representatives’ listening. You can use these components to demonstrate that you are open to your customers’ needs and available to answer their questions. The components of salesperson listening as defined by Ramsey and Sohi include sensing verbal and nonverbal information, evaluating the information provided by the customer, and responding appropriately. Characteristics of an appropriate response include responding at appropriate times, giving enthusiastic responses, providing relevant answers to questions, and answering in full sentences instead of providing one-word answers.
The two points that caught my attention are:
- giving enthusiastic responses
- answering in full sentences instead of providing one-word answers
They didn’t elaborate, so I had to do some digging to understand how those behaviors would translate into being characteristics of an appropriate response.
An enthusiastic response is heard as caring, tuned in, and intelligent. Sitting facing the person, smiling lightly, fluctuating the tone-of-voice, making eye connection, indicate that the listener values and is enthusiastic about what the speaker has to say.
I’m writing a novel and one of the characters too often responds with few words, which annoys the protagonist who doesn’t really get much meaning from such brevity, but she sure assumes a lot. That’s exactly what happens when the salesperson doesn’t share his thinking with customers. The customer is often left without enough information to make a good buying decision, and consequently, might go elsewhere, make an unwise purchase, or assume lack of interest.
Selling is dependent upon creating relationships and these two tips are excellent to practice. They’re visual, physical and auditory relationship-builders.
There’s rarely a time when you don’t have to listen, but in a workday, there are situations that require more or less of your full listening attention. For example, you might be a sole practitioner like a bench scientist or painter; therefore, interacting with customers just isn’t a large part of what you ordinarily do.
In the first column, put the listening situations in order of frequency. In other words, which of the seven listening situations do you engage in most (1) to least (7)?
___ ___ Interacting with customers: internal or external
___ ___ Coaching and developing your team
___ ___ Collaborating with peers on shared projects
___ ___ Influencing upward and across the organization
___ ___ Partnering with vendors or suppliers
___ ___ Resolving conflicts: building relationships
___ ___ Leading change and understanding questions, concern
Now, in the second column, put them in order of difficulty. In other words, which of the seven listening situations is most (1) to least (7) challenging for you to handle?
If the most frequent situation is also your most challenging, you use a tremendous amount of emotional and physical energy handling it. Conversely, if your most frequent situation is also your least challenging, you’ve developed skills to handle it.
Many of our clients tell us too much of their day is spent on difficult situations, and they want to learn how to change that ratio.
For our research, please send us a copy of your lists. We’ll share anonymous results.
5. Creative types are often seen as rather flaky — their minds leaping wildly from one bizarre idea to another, ever seeking inspiration. But a new study suggests that people who actually achieve creative success have minds that stubbornly cling to ideas, even to the point where it impairs their ability to shift focus.
6. Over the past decade, Ellen Bialystok, a distinguished research professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, has shown that bilingual children develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking, skills that are often considered part of the brain’s so-called executive function.
7. The difference in listening habits of men and women is more than just perceptual. A study by Dr. Michael Phillips, a neuroaudiologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine, found gender differences in the brain activity of men and women. Brain imaging scans showed that the left-brain hemisphere of men in the study was activated while listening, while both hemispheres were activated in women. This data suggests that there is a physical difference in listening between men and women.
8. A new survey shows 63 percent of Americans take a vitamin or supplement, but many wish the manufacturers would come up with a vitamin that would improve their significant other’s listening skills.
Commissioned by The Vitamin Cottage May 17, 2012
9. In his article in the Huffington Post, Wray Herbert discusses declining memory in Baby Boomers and what might help keep them sharp into old age. He cites a study from the Synapse Center, a senior activity center in Dallas, which also acts as a cognitive aging lab for psychological scientist Denise C. Park and colleagues at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Participants, aged 60-90, agreed to commit to a lifestyle change, learning a new skill (in this case quilting and digital photography) in a social environment that demanded the use of core cognitive abilities. A third group divided their time between the two new activities getting a variety of mental stimulation but less of any one cognitive demand. In addition there were three other groups that participated in social activities at the Center (something researchers believe to be beneficial in keeping the mind sharp), which required meeting and socializing with new people but no formal training. Others participated at home, where they engaged in activities that many believe to be beneficial, although not proven so, such as listening to classical music or working on puzzles. Others acted as the control group and did nothing out of the ordinary. The scientists believed, but wanted to document, that productive engagement is the key to maintaining mental sharpness.
The results were surprising; the photography students, including the ones doing both activities, did have a significant boost in memory when compared to the quilters. Interestingly, the quilters did not outperform the photographers in spatial processing. The photographers had a slight edge in this skill as well. Perhaps the bigger surprise for the researchers was that socialization was not as beneficial as anticipated.
Thank you for reading this second part of three blog posts about recent fascinating research on the brain and listening. I found them all thought provoking; I hope you do too.
3. Believe it or not, according to neuroscience placing our attention on pain in the body makes pain exist because the circuits that perceive pain in the brain become electrically activated. By putting our awareness on something else other than pain, the brain circuits that process pain and bodily sensations can and will be literally turned off, and presto, the pain goes away. But when we look to see if the pain is gone for good, the corresponding brain circuits once again become activated and as they continuously fire, their connections become more permanently strengthened. By paying attention to pain on a daily basis, we are wiring ourselves neurologically to develop a more acute awareness of pain perception because the related brain circuits become more enriched. Our own personal attention has that much of an effect on us. This could be one solution to how pain or even our past memories characterize us. What we repeatedly think about and what we focus our attention on is what we neurologically become. Neuroscience has finally understood that we can mold and shape the neurological framework of self by the repeated attention we give to any one thing.
“The Thought of You” Joe Dispenza
4. …most learning benefits from give and take. And the greater the number of students in the room, the lesser the chance for interaction and, hence, for education in the classical sense of the term—educere, to draw out. As Koller, the Coursera cofounder puts it. “When you’re giving a lecture and you stop to ask a question, 50% of the class are scribbling away and didn’t hear you, another 20% are on Facebook, and one smarty-pants in the front row blurts out the answer and you feel good.”… “Why not take the 75-minute lecture, Koller asks, “break it up into short pieces, and add interactive engagement into the video so that every five minutes there’s a question?”
Fast Company, p.101,”The Coursera Effect”
The International Listening Association is an organization I joined a few years ago whose focus is, as you might guess, effective listening. I had the privilege of presenting at their annual convention in 2011, and have met some very devoted and knowledgeable individuals in this area of study. This article, “Listen Up! Here’s One Convention Where Talk Is Cheap,” posted in the July 5 online Wall Street Journal, highlights the important work they do. Click this link to read it, or go to the Listening Impact Facebook page and follow the link to the article from there.
1. Dispatches from the scientific front brought to us by popular science wunderkind Jonah Lehrer. There is indeed a part of the brain associated with a sudden “ah-ha moment” of the type linked to key breakthroughs of luminaries such as Isaac Newton and Archimedes. It is called the anterior superior temporal gyrus and it is situated in the right hemisphere of the brain, just above your ear. When you get a sudden insight it registers a huge spike in activity, just like that light bulb.
2. In a study scientists have observed that our brain stops us from getting bored when listening to uninteresting people by “rewriting” a dull speech to make it an interesting one.
The researchers have also observed that people listening to boring speeches adjust by creating an “inner voice” to drown out the offending speech.
The response in the brain starts the moment the brain listens to “monotonously-spoken” words it feels should be more communicative.
The consequent increase in the brain activity indicates to the presence of an inner voice, which makes “more vivid speech” in the place of boring speech, says the study conducted by scientists at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology.
“You may think the brain need not produce its own speech while listening to one that is already available. But, apparently, the brain is very picky on the speech it hears,” Dr Bo Yao, the principal author of the research has been quoted as saying to the Telegraph.
“When the brain hears monotonously-spoken direct speech quotations which it expects to be more vivid, the brain simply ‘talks over’ the speech it hears with more vivid speech utterances of its own.
“By doing so, the brain attempts to optimise the processing of the incoming speech, ensuring more speedy and accurate responses,” Yao stated.
The NeuroImage Journal has published the finding in the Sat, 24 March 2012 issue
I was struck in an article in Time Magazine (June 24, 2013 pp40-43) about Chuck Schumer’s brand of deal-making. He said:
“I’m willing to listen if it will help bring Republicans along.”
“If you want to bring somebody onto your side, you have to figure out what motivates them.”
“If you want to be a knight on a white horse, always espousing 100% purity, then you shouldn’t be in the Senate”
“I don’t like the far right. And I don’t like the far left. Because I think they expect they have a monopoly on wisdom.”
“I’m a politician. That means I have chosen my life’s work in the constraints of the system to accomplish as much good as I can. I accept the tough choices.”
Not only does he bring up the art of compromise in negotiations, he also speaks to all four listening habits that we’ve identified, and mostly he surfaces the need for everyone to learn how to flex their listening to others and to the situation.
What are your responses to his remarks, both as they relate to the current state of politics, and to their application to listening in your world?