I ran into this little gem recently: Listen first, talk second.
It’s excellent advice for any parent dealing with their child, especially if he or she is a tween or teenager.
It’s a smart strategy if you’re negotiating, or sizing someone up as an employee, a team member, a supplier, a potential partner.
How often do we fail to listen first, talk second? And then – regret it?
We hurt a friend’s feelings. We lose the nuance of a critical element of conversation. We dismiss the concerns of a spouse or misunderstand the boss’s intent. These lapses can cost us… big time.
Listening Skills Are Essential to Every Relationship
I liken this advice to its cousin – think before you speak. And might I add – don’t interrupt?
Of course we all speak thoughtlessly at times, and we interrupt when we’re excited or upset. But wouldn’t some of us do better to tape our mouths and tune our ears? Real communication means listening, and listening provides exceptional guidance to what relationships require – if we’re willing to pay attention.
Consider the great guy you dated who was dropping hints you ignored about not being over his ex… What if you had really listened? How about Husband Number 1 who said he didn’t want children… and you were convinced he’d change his mind?
What about your Right Hand Man who was voicing concerns over that risky project – that you were pushing the team too hard, too fast? What if you had really “heard” his warnings before performance suffered, team members quit, and you ran over budget with a less than ideal result?
While the concept of listening before we talk is closely aligned to “think before you speak,” it is also cousin to the writer’s watchwords that are so easily ignored: write once, edit twice. Although I may be of the “edit six times” school in reality (when possible), as I note the fundamental wisdom of listening attentively, I am also reminded that we listen – and evaluate – with our eyes.
The Importance of Body Language to Listening
How many of us perfect saying the right thing at the right time, yet we betray our true feelings in a glance, a tone, the tilt of the head, the twitch of the fingers? When we are less than forthcoming or especially anxious, we may shift our weight from one foot to the other, drum on a table, fiddle with a piece of hair.
How many of us have unconscious habits that reflect discomfort with our words? For those on the other end of our communications, a little observational skill might go a very long way. So shouldn’t we train ourselves to trust what we see as well as what we hear? Shouldn’t we be able to hone our interpretation of what our dates, our mates, and our kids are really telling us? Isn’t this invaluable in understanding what takes place at the negotiating table?
As this “Ultimate Guide to Body Language” at Psychology Today reminds us, not only do our facial expressions communicate what we’re feeling and thinking, but from head to toe (and hair to toe in some instances), so, too, do we articulate what is taking place beneath the surface. These visual signals include:
… the tiniest movements involving the muscles around your eyes and mouth, called “microexpressions.” One reason they are so important to understanding body language is because they can completely contradict the impression you’re trying to create by what you’re saying.
What else? Head and neck, shoulders, posture, arms, hands, legs and even feet – all can display additional information about what the person speaking genuinely feels or thinks. Consequently, the keen listener-observer can benefit from what he is seeing.
Love Talk, Marriage Talk, and Necessary Listening
I keep my own counsel. At times, I clam up. I am aware when I do not communicate much, much less well. I have “loner” tendencies, and once married a loner, so this non-communicative style may be a habit formed of experience of a matter of my nature.
In recent years, in matters of love, I have acquired a more expansive habit of speaking up – effectively. In marriage, I doubt I was as skilled at articulating my feelings, or encouraging my spouse to express his. Since I currently live with a good talker, I have only to turn on my ability to probe (asking the right questions helps), and keep my capacity for listening on alert. I say “alert” as I recognize my own tendency at times for the mind to wander (to words), and thus for my attention to be divided.
As my ex-husband kept many things close to the vest, my opportunities for listening were more limited. I might add that I dwelt in the false security of the notion of marriage. I couldn’t imagine that we would ever split up; when communication failed to flow, I persuaded myself there would always be a “tomorrow.”
I should have listened to the silences (and read the body language), rather than assuming that a lack of discussion equates to a conclusion that everything is running smoothly.
I suspect I have generally done a better job of listening in professional situations, and I fared better at both talking and listening when it came to my children than in marriage. Even so, looking back, I note many instances where a reminder of “listen first, talk second” would have been well-advised.