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The Magic of Listening

Rapt attention is the highest form of flattery.


Your ability to listen well in a social or business conversation can help you as much as any other skill you develop. One of the most important qualities of a leader is the ability to gather information by asking questions and listening closely to what people have to say. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, concluded that your ability to connect emotionally with people, your EQ, is as vital to your success, and perhaps even more so, than your IQ. He defined the most important quality of EQ as "empathy," or the ability to be aware of and sensitive to what people say and what they really mean.

Howard Gardner of Harvard University has defined this quality as "social intelligence," which, as we noted at the outset of this resource, is the highest paid and most respected form of intelligence in our society. And fortunately, it can be learned just by becoming a good listener.

Four Keys to Effective Listening

Every book, article, or course on this subject ultimately comes to the same conclusion: There are four key elements of effective listening. If you can master them, your "charm quotient" will skyrocket immediately.

1. Listen attentively. Listen without interrupting. Listen in complete silence, as if there is nothing in the world that is more important to you at this moment than what the other person is saying.

If someone wants to talk to you, especially at home, immediately discontinue all other activities and give that person your complete attention.

Turn off the television, shut the book or newspaper, and focus single-mindedly on what the other person is saying. This behavior will be instantly recognized and appreciated, and will give you tremendous emotional power in the conversation.

To listen as if you are transfixed by what the other person is saying, imagine that your eyes are sunlamps and you are giving the person's face a tan.

When a person is intently listened to by another, he is affected biochemically. His brain releases endorphins, nature's "happy drug," which makes him feel good about himself. His self-esteem goes up and he likes himself more. Above all, he likes and trusts you more by virtue of your listening attentively to him. The payoff is extraordinary.

2. Pause before replying. Rather than jumping in as soon as the other person takes a breath, pause for three to five seconds. Allow a silence to exist. Just relax.

When you pause, three things happen, all of them good. First, you avoid interrupting the other person if he is just pausing to reorganize his thoughts before continuing. Second, by pausing, you tell the person that what he said was important and that you are considering it carefully. This reinforces the personal value of the speaker and causes him to see you as a more attractive and intelligent person. Third, you actually hear the person, not only what he said, but what he meant, at a deeper level of mind. Try it once and see.

3. Question for clarification. Never assume that you know exactly what the person meant by what he said. Instead, help him to expand on his most recent remark by asking, "How do you mean?" or "What do you mean, exactly?"

Here is one of the most important rules of communication: The person who asks questions has control.

The person answering the questions is controlled by the person asking them. When a person is speaking in answer to a question, fully 100 percent of his focus and attention is on what he is saying; he cannot think of anything else. He is totally controlled by the questioner.

The trick to charming someone with this technique is to ask your questions thoughtfully. All great communicators know this and use it regularly.

4. Feed it back; paraphrase it in your own words. This is the acid test of effective listening, the proof that you were really paying attention, instead of engaging in the "phony listening" that is so common today.

When a person finishes speaking, you pause and say something like, "So, you just did this, and then this happened, and then you decided to do that, right?"

Only when the speaker confirms that's what he said and meant do you continue, either by asking another question or commenting on what has just been said.

Why Women Are Wonderful Listeners

In general, women are excellent listeners already. When a woman communicates, according to MRI scans, fully seven centers of her brain are involved. In men, it is only two.

Men often listen half-heartedly to women, especially if the television is on. That's because men can only process one sensory input at a time. They cannot, for example, both watch television and listen to someone else speaking, which women can do much more easily.

The worst sin a man can commit with the woman in his life is not to listen to her when she is speaking. Every man has heard the woman accuse, angrily, "You're not listening to me!"

The typical male response is to quickly say, "Yes, I am."

Then she has you. She folds her arms and asks demandingly, "All right, then. What did I just say?"

It is only if he can feed it back to her with some accuracy that she knows for sure that he was really listening.

For you to become a completely charming person, you must learn to master the techniques of listening -- especially if you are a man. Developing this key skill will take discipline and determination at first, but it will become easy and automatic over time.

Listening with a Difference

Effective listening means listening with a difference. It's not the "lend me your ear and I'll tell you a story" type of listening; rather, it's about convincing people you are totally involved in what is being said.

Charming People by Listening to Them

I remember once watching a friend of mine who was the hostess of a party. She was chatting with great animation to someone unfamiliar to me. When he left, she crossed over to me and said, "Do you know Roger Pitt, that delightful man I was just talking to?" I didn't. "Well, he's one of the most charming people I've ever met, and what a great conversationalist -- intelligent, articulate, and amusing -- you must meet him!"

Inwardly I smiled. "A great conversationalist, intelligent, articulate, and amusing," she said. Well, while I was watching, he rarely seemed to utter more than a word or two -- but he was, I noticed, a great listener. And in so being, he absolutely charmed his hostess.

Your Tools for Charming Others

Try these effective listening techniques -- listening, pausing, asking thoughtful questions, and paraphrasing -- one at a time. Begin by practicing attentive listening at home and at work. Make no attempt to interrupt. Just hang on the other person's every word.

Practice controlling and directing the conversation by using these various techniques. You'll discover you can communicate more deeply with a person in a few minutes by asking questions and listening closely to the answers than you could in several weeks by talking all the time.

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