If you’re reading this, you’ve probably spent more time in a classroom than you can remember. It’s likely that you continue to spend time in similar settings, maybe conferences, meetings, sales presentations, or the like. You’ve spent a lifetime listening to teachers, speakers, reading books and materials, and watching presentations, all in the quest for information. But do you really know what you’re doing?
We have a name for this: Learning. But do you really know an effective way to learn? Have you ever even considered the questions, “How well can I learn?” and “How can I learn better?” Despite the thousands of hours that many of us have invested in learning situations, we’ve really never learned how to learn. It was always something that we just sort of figured out on the fly.
There is an existing technology that can make a dramatic difference in how you learn. It isn’t a study method, a memory aid, or a way to read faster. The major component of this technology has a deceptively simple name and you probably think it’s something you already do. It’s called “listening.” But don’t let the name fool you. When you think you’re listening, you may be doing something completely different. I’ve learned that what I used to call “listening” is not what I mean when I use the word now.
I recently attended a business workshop given by Ariel and Shya Kane, entitled Transformation in the Workplace. As part of the seminar, we explored what it means to truly listen, to intentionally hear what is being said from the point of view of the person who is speaking. How many times do you remember sitting in a presentation or a class, engaging in a casual conversation and hearing something that gave you an idea? It happens to me a lot. I follow the thoughts to see what the new information might mean, or how I might use it. But by the time my attention returns to the speaker, I’ve become totally lost.
If the speaker says something that sounds like what I’ve previously learned, I think “I know that” to myself. Since I already know – or believe that I do – I don’t bother to really listen and hear it. And then there’s no chance for me to see that what the speaker is saying is new or different. Even if I did happen to know the facts involved, the speaker’s perspective is different from my own. If I truly listen, I can acquire a new insight into things. When I think, “I already know that,” it closes me off from hearing the truth and therefore learning. And if you hear yourself saying, “I agree” or “I disagree,” you are converting someone else’s words into something you already know. Again, you’re stopping yourself from truly hearing.
Having an agenda is another hindrance to listening. Consider a sales presentation for a product that I’ve already decided I want. I’m probably listening through my agenda, storing information to make the case that the product should be purchased. At the same time, though, I’m filtering out any information that might serve to change my mind – or at least cause me to further question my purchase. Because all information is passing through the filter of my agenda, I’m not truly listening to the speaker, and I’ve lost the opportunity to learn. This filtering process works exactly the same way when my agenda is to not purchase the product.
I also discovered that if I’m practicing what I’m about to say while someone else is speaking, I’m not listening. This is especially true when I’m about to give a planned presentation. I generally don’t remember who spoke before me, much less what they said during their talk because I was busy practicing my talk in my mind.
One final hindrance I want to mention is “feeling badly” for not listening. Punishing yourself is just one more way to avoid listening and learning, and it doesn’t accomplish anything positive. When you notice that you’re not listening, you have a choice. You can feel badly, or you can move your attention away from yourself and back onto the speaker. By choosing wisely, you are placing yourself back into a state where you’re listening and learning.
Since attending the Kanes’ course, I have discovered that listening goes far beyond just learning. It is about truly hearing what is being said, whether it’s coming from a teacher, a coworker, a supervisor, or a client. The simple act of truly listening allows a dramatic shift, a transformation in what you can accomplish in your life. I urge you to try it for yourself. Then, when someone tells you how you’ve suddenly become much more effective, productive and easy to be with, you’ll really be able to hear it.
Andrew Gideon has a Master’s Degree in Computer Science. He is the Vice President and Co–owner of TAG Online, a World Wide Web provider and software development corporation.