We are always told we should pay attention and listen but do we actually listen, Studies show that most people do not truly listen, They get easily distracted or just pay attention to a portion of the conversation. The results can be devastating. So how can we listen? Why don’t we truly listen? What are tips on how to listen?
I had a chance to interview Christine Miles, author of the newly released, book, What Is It Costing You Not To Listen? She discusses what it means not to listen, what it is costing us professionally and personally, and tips on how to truly listen.
Tell me about your book.
What Is It Costing You Not to Listen? is a guide, or a map, that will completely transform your ability to listen, a skill that is particularly important for mothers. Listening is the most powerful communication skill we have, as we use it 40-80% of our waking hours each day. However, we only retain 25% of what we hear. So, while we spend a lot of time listening, we are missing a lot of what’s being said. This has tremendous effects, especially when it comes to motherhood.
How do we learn to maximize our listening skills so we can be amazing communicators, strong leaders, and present parents? We need to work on the skill of listening, and that’s exactly what I set out to teach others through this book. The tools I share enable you to transform the way you listen so that you can understand others at a deeper level and gain clear insight into what is really being communicated.
What led you to write it?
Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with countless individuals, teams, families, business leaders, managers, and employees. One common theme continues to come up: no matter who I’m working with or what issue we are trying to resolve, the inability to listen is at the root of every problem. While listening is at the core of conflict, it is also the root of the solution. What Is It Costing You Not to Listen? raises awareness about the value of listening and provides guidance on how to develop this critical skill, starting as early as elementary school.
Most of us treat listening like we treat walking. We are born with legs, so we believe we will eventually learn to walk. With listening, we are born with ears, so we believe we will eventually learn to listen. But hearing and listening are not the same thing. Unfortunately, so many of us do not realize this, which can lead to countless problems in our personal and professional lives.
For parents, if they are unable to listen to their children and partners, that can create small wounds daily that add up and eventually cost them dearly. Our underdeveloped ability to listen impacts our relationships and the important role we play in children’s lives. I’m on a mission to change that.
What did you find challenging when writing the book?
While writing this book, I struggled with two things. First, finding the time to focus on writing. This was a challenge I knew I needed to tackle early on if I was going to bring this book into the world. I bet every mother reading this has full days, from the moment they wake in the morning until the moment they fall asleep at night, so carving out time to write was a necessity for me. With the pandemic and lockdown creating even more loneliness and disconnection, I knew this message needed to get out. So, I decided to go away on a 9-day writing retreat, and it was the best decision I could have made.
The second challenge I faced was effectively conveying to the reader how to transform the way they listen. I wanted this book to be a practical guide to listening, not just a theoretical discussion about why it’s important. I spent hours making sure this book delivers the tools that readers need to change their lives through listening. There are a lot of books out there that explain why you need to become a better listener but not many that explain how to do it. This book serves as that how-to guide.
What led you to be so interested in listening and how people listen?
I grew up with a mother who suffered from anxiety and depression. She had a lot of pain underneath the surface that people could not see. Beginning at the age of 5, I realized it was important, and even necessary, for me to understand her pain, to hear what wasn’t being said, and to see what wasn’t easily seen. Listening was the skill I needed to use the most to connect with my mother and help my family navigate her struggles. While there was some obvious burden in this responsibility, the silver lining was that I fine-tuned my ability to listen, and it led to many successes and achievements starting at an early age. In fact, my ability to listen differently has been the single thread through all my successes. I want to give this gift to others and teach them what I learned from a young age, so that they can have improved relationships with their children, spouses, partners, colleagues, and anyone else in their lives.
Why is it so hard for people to really listen?
Listening is difficult for many of us for two reasons. First, we are never taught to listen; it’s an assumed skill. Formal education is not devoted to listening, with much more emphasis on writing, reading, and speaking. In addition, only 2% of people have any type of listening training. For parents, listening is a full-time job and a pivotal part of raising children. But when things go wrong, we often end up blaming the listener when we have never taught them how to really listen.
Second, the brain is the enemy of listening. Listeners are essentially “white knuckling” with their subconscious to stay present when someone is talking. Since our brains do not prioritize listening to others over what is happening in our own mind (e.g., focusing on our own story, rehearsing what we are going to say, getting distracted, assuming, or mind reading, to name a few), many of us find ourselves missing the message and the messenger, which can cause conflict and misalignment.
What are some of the problems if we don’t listen well?
The biggest problem we experience if we don’t listen well is disconnection, which can dramatically affect our personal and professional relationships. Take my mother, for example, who was experiencing a lot of pain that was not necessarily perceptible to the untrained eye. Humans are wired to detect what is happening on the surface and are not necessarily born with the skills to look and listen at a deeper level to truly see what’s going on. And unfortunately, when we can’t look deeper, we are unable to connect with and understand those in our lives who matter to us most.
From a business perspective, the consequences are similar. We rush to solve problems based on what we see on the surface, which often leads us to provide the wrong answers, the wrong solutions, or to give our customers or key stakeholders what they ask for instead of what they need. We assume that people know and ask for what they need, which isn’t necessarily the case. Instead, we need to understand what is truly going on before we can provide the right solution. It’s very costly when we don’t prioritize understanding first.
What are the benefits of being a good listener when it comes to family and friends?
When you give the gift of listening, you throw your loved ones, family, and friends an emotional life raft. In our digital world where we are bombarded with messages, we are often left feeling more disconnected than connected. Listening builds a connection that changes how we love each other and see ourselves. I have heard endless stories from parents who have attended my ListeningPath™ workshops about how using the tools I teach in their own homes has led to a massive transformation in how they relate to their children. Kids who previously wouldn’t share their school day or social lives are now opening up to their parents and sharing with them, creating a much deeper connection.
How can we improve our listening habits in our professional lives?
First, we must be aware that listening is a skill that needs to be developed. It’s not going to happen automatically. We need to devote time and energy to improve how we listen. Much like going to the gym to build our physical muscles, listening is a muscle you have to strengthen.
Second, don’t try to figure it out yourself. You will need the right system and tools to be a better listener, and we call these tools The Listening Path™. We’ve made learning to listen simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Being a good listener takes practice, but the good news is that there is ample opportunity to do so – with strangers, family, colleagues, and friends.
Here are a few simple tips for better listening:
- Go back to the beginning: Gently guide the conversation to the beginning of a story to make it easier to follow. People tend to start a conversation with the problem, the middle of the story or the end result, which can cause confusion for the listener.
- Use the phrases of great listeners: Follow in the footsteps of skilled interviewers and therapists by using phrases like: “Take me back to the beginning,” “Tell me more,” and “How does that make you feel?”
- Listen for not only facts, but also for feelings: We are not only wired, but also taught, to seek facts when we are listening. Alternatively, many of us are not socialized to ask or respond to the feelings others share with us, which can lead to a very diagnostic and prescriptive approach to how we listen to others. The factual questions shut down connection, whereas, when you ask someone how they feel, the floodgates to connection open.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I believe the world is thirsty to be understood. Listening is a gift that you give to better understand others, and one that gives you greater returns than you can ever imagine.