Most articles on Effective Listening will highlight the need to strengthen listening abilities by doing the following:
- Utilize effective body language - direct eye contact, leaning in, tilting the head slightly
- Ask pertinent questions
- Don't multi-task
- Remove distractions
- Offer listening cues: head nods, smiles, mm-hmms,..
- Paraphrase to ensure understanding
- Hold back on interjecting with your thoughts, opinions, information
All of the above are great tips, but they are all about 'how' to listen better. Ultimately, they are not worth anything if you don't want to actually hear what the other person has to say. Therefore, the key to good listening is - Desire. You have to 'want' to hear the other person, you have to 'want' to understand their position, you have to 'want' to gain new insights and new information. Without desire you won't activate any of the items from the list above, you won't shift your focus from your communicative needs to address the needs of others.
There is a story that is told of Franklin Roosevelt who was tired of making small talk and offering meaningless flattery at various receptions and in receiving lines. Truly one of the tiresome aspects of the role itself no doubt. However, he decided to determine how much people really paid attention to the comments and greetings made in such situations. The next reception he attended, while standing in the receiving line, he greeted everyone by cheerfully sharing "I murdered my Grandmother this morning". Most were so caught up in themselves, so focused on making a good impression, that they responded with "Congratulations" and "Keep up the good work" and "I admire what you've done" platitudes. It wasn't until near the end of the line, when greeting a Foreign Diplomat from Bolivia with his greeting of "I murdered my grandmother this morning" that he was actually heard. The gentleman paused, leaned in and quietly responded "I'm sure she had it coming".
How many of the messages surrounding us do we miss because we are not entering the engagement with the desire to hear so much as to be heard? If our focus is firmly upon ourselves then we are not going to be attending to what others have to say. We may 'hear' it but we aren't truly listening. Listening effectively requires focus. It requires us to pay attention to not only what is being said, but also to how. The 'how' provides the subtext. Therefore, true listening requires a depth of attentiveness that allows us to pick up on both the verbal and non-verbal messages being delivered. Truly listening is work. It takes effort and therefore, we need to want to do it. It's all in our desire.
Long story short? The secret to becoming a better, more effective Listener? Ya gotta wanna.