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Please, Just Listen!

How many of us are guilty of “listening” but not hearing? The reality is there is no way you can solve someone else’s problem if you haven’t heard it. Here are some listening steps to improve your listening skills, and stop solution driven responses which is not “listening”.

Larry thought he was a great listener.  That morning while drinking his coffee, his wife was complaining about the kids.  “They never pay attention to anything I say.”  She went on to list all the mundane mishaps of each child.  Larry tuned her out.  He heard little after the first sentence.  Finally, he said, “Why don’t you send the kids to your mom’s this weekend?  Give yourself a break.”  She stared at him and said nothing.

That evening Larry came home to a quiet house.  He searched for his wife.  Instead he found a note that read, “Maybe what we all need is time away from you.”  He wondered what in the world he’d said to cause this response.

Will Larry ever know what he said?  Not unless his wife returns, is willing to tell him, and he listens.  How many of us are guilty of “listening” but not hearing?  How many of us end such fake listening with a broad-brush solution really designed to shut the other person up? 

One exercise I do while teaching listening skills requires groups of three to practice really listening to each other.  One person presents a problem, the other person listens, and the third person observes and gives feedback.  The rounds last three minutes.  During that 3-minute round, nearly all “listeners,” say things like, “Have you tried. . .” or “If I were you, I’d try. . .” or “Why don’t you do. . .”  These are all solution driven responses which are not “listening.”  Can we not listen to one another for just three short minutes?

The reality is there is no way you can solve someone else’s problem if you haven’t heard it.  Furthermore, if that person has been struggling with the problem over a period of time, what makes you think you have the perfect solution?  (But, we all do, right?). 

Here are some listening tips:

1.  When your head is busy thinking up solutions, stop yourself.  Instead ask yourself, what is this person’s voice telling me?  Does your speaker sound angry, sad, disappointed?  What facial expressions do you see?  Is your speaker, frowning, looking from side to side? 

2.  If someone says to you, “What should I do?” be careful!  Rather than begin your litany of answers, respond with, “You’ve described a tough challenge.  Tell me what you’ve tried,” or “I’m wondering what the real problem is here.  Before I jump in with ideas, tell me, what is really going on?” or “How about we brainstorm together some possible ideas.”

3.  Remember people do not always tell you things so you’ll solve their problems.  Sometimes they simply want you to listen and be there for them.  Be sure the person wants to hear an idea, suggestion or different point of view before you share it.  Ask permission.  For example, “I have an idea.  I may be all off base, but would you like me to share it?”  Or “May I make a suggestion?  You can always take it or leave it.”

Larry learned the hard way how not listening can destroy a relationship.  He thought he was a good listener.  But when he had the opportunity to really hear his wife, he failed. 

Next time someone says, “Do you have a minute?”  Why not give them three minutes?  Why not settle in and really give the gift of listening?

Find out how good a listener you are.  Take this free assessment.

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Joan Curtis, EdD is founder of Total Communications Coaching where she specializes in helping smart, capable professionals move ahead in their careers by becoming skilled communicators. She has taught numerous workshops on presentation skills. She also provides personal coaching to empower people to be dynamic public speakers. She is the author of the newly released book, Managing Sticky Situations at Work: Communication Secrets for Success in the Workplace, learn more at

Join her virtual group, Speak Up for Success, and become a dynamic speaker in six weeks! You’ll get tips as well as group support that will propel your speaking success. Learn more at

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