Have you ever gone to a party, been introduced to a stranger, and then spent the next 15 minutes as they launched into a monologue about…themselves? It amazes me how often this happens. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy meeting folks and hearing about them. But the art of conversation seems lost on many people these days. The communication skills involved – both talking and listening – are rare yet essential.
I’m reminded of a sports commentary NPR’s Frank Deford did recently about the Yankee’s Alex Rodriguez and his fall from grace. Mr. Deford noted that A-Rod seemed to have it all: talent, looks, success, money, even a hip nickname. He related a story of when he was to interview the sports figure for an outdoor taped televised segment. A-Rod showed up late, and the camera crew had to readjust the set since the lighting had changed. Apparently making small talk with A-Rod is challenging. In an effort to help the conversation along, the producer shared that Mr. Deford had just come out with a new baseball novel. A-Rod did not ask a single question about the sports writer’s new book, but instead talked only about himself and the book he had written. Needless to say, this self-centered attitude did not endear him to Mr. Deford or the crew. A chance to show interest in someone besides himself, and perhaps shift people’s perception of him, was wasted by the once-admired athlete. I wonder how often we do the same, just by failing to care enough about others to listen to their stories and perspectives.
As a leadership coach, I do a lot of listening. It is always grounded in deep respect, genuine curiosity, and desire to serve. Active listening is how I gather information, detect thinking habits, surface feelings, and connect with my clients. The coaching session, unlike most conversations in life, is where the focus is all about you, my client. My hope is that you feel heard and understood. And, that you return to the workplace ready to offer others the gift of listening.
What percentage of time do you spend talking versus listening? What might be different if you adjusted that ratio? What can you do to become a better listener? If I can support you as you develop your listening skills as a leader, please ask. Have a great month…Spring is almost here!
Sharon Keys Seal