ABC’s Dancing with the Stars has been one of its most popular TV shows. The importance of listening as the couples prepare their routines is well-documented. There are countless stories of listening failures on the dance floor, resulting in missed steps, injuries and elimination from competition. In the business world, listening failures result in costly business mistakes, missed deadlines and broken promises. During business meetings, for example, a University of Utah study found that people have a difficult time distinguishing who is an expert on a topic from who is most vocal. Many people haven’t been trained to listen critically, and instead, get distracted and focus on the person who speaks the loudest or most often. Listening only to “loud or motor mouths” leads to costly and poor business decisions.
Effective listening is possible, but it requires more than ears that function or good genes. Like award-winning dancing, listening is a habit that improves with desire and diligent practice. Some leaders seem to approach listening like finding a winning lottery ticket; they take chances and hope for the best, rather than dedicate the attention necessary to develop good habits. Instead of relying on lottery tickets, rabbits’ feet or four-leaf clovers, we recommend this simple, two-step listening improvement strategy.
Step One: Pick One Person to Listen to More Effectively. If you were to work to improve listening with every person in every situation all at once, it would be overwhelming. Instead, identify one person that you have difficulty listening to or with whom you’d like or need to listen better. The person could be one who has bad listening habits such as interrupting you, talking too much or failing to remember what you’ve said. Or the person might be someone you tune out. Next, identify and make a list of tangible reasons for listening to this person better. Without incentive to listen better, few people do it.
Once you have a plan to listen better, the mere sight of your target person may be enough to remind you of your intention. Even so, you might want to discuss your goal of listening better with another individual, write a listening reminder that pops up before meeting with him or her, or write the word LISTEN as a screen-saver.
Step Two: Work on Improving One Listening Skill or behavior at a time. Identify specific listening behaviors that others have said you need to improve. Instead of trying to improve several new listening skills all at once, tackle one skill at a time.
Effective listening is not a matter of chance. It requires desire, incentive and practice. Begin “dancing” with the Listening Two-Step Strategy today.