A LISTENING system that will transform your relationships

We’re living in a time of amazing contradictions. Never in the history of the world have we had so many ways to communicate with and listen to one another. However, the research on communication effectiveness and listening comprehension has not gone up one single point.

People are still stuck at a 25% listening of listening effectiveness. People are still letting their minds wander as someone else talks and now people are even doing other tasks than listening while they’re in a virtual meeting.

The results can literally be the difference between life and death. Numerous medical professionals have told me that some of their patients died because someone was not listening. Too many of my coaching clients have told me how their careers died, at one point or another, because someone was not listening. And I’ve seen too many relationships that have died because someone was not listening or listening well enough to straighten out the misunderstandings.

I’ve got a solution to this. You can dramatically increase your listening ability.

One way to do that is to memorize and utilize my L-I-S-T-E-N acronym.

Let’s take a closer look.

L = Like the other person

The process of “opening” your ears to listen to someone else starts with your attitude. If you absolutely can’t stand someone, you won’t hear much of what they have to say because you’ll be focused on the bad things you think about them.

However, you must find something, not necessarily everything, you like about the person you’re listening to so you “open” up your ears to their comments. Some of the things you like might be as simple as her handshake, taste in clothes, or tone of voice. Other things might be more significant, such as her honesty, even though you might not like to hear what she has to say or her willingness to help.

I = Interest yourself in the other person

It’s very difficult to listen to someone if you’re not interested in the other person or what he has to say. So stop yourself from prejudging someone, thinking he will be a boring waste of your time. Start looking for something interesting in every person with whom you’re interacting.

I re-learned this lesson a few weeks ago in London where I was delivering a presentation. After I finished speaking, I sat down for tea at a nearby tea shoppe and was soon joined by a 90-year-old gentleman who asked if he could share the table. Instead of sitting in silence with this stranger, instead of presuming he would have nothing of interest to share with me, I decided to show interest in him. I asked a couple of questions and soon found myself in the midst of the greatest conversation I had had in a long time. Turned out this gentleman was Commodore Charles Clarke, a former POW in the German concentration camp made famous by the Steve McQueen movie, The Great Escape.

S = See the other person

Seeing comes on two levels. The first is physical. Look at the other person who is talking. Use great eye contact. The other person will feel respected and you’ll stayed more tuned in.

The second is emotional seeing. Use your heart to really “see” or really “listen” to what Is not being said through their overall demeanor, energy level, focus, and comfort level.

People are craving to be noticed, heard, and appreciated. When you master this skill of “seeing,” people will love you, respect you, work harder for you, open doors for you, buy more from you, and become a more valuable member of your personal and professional network.

T = Touch the other person

No, I don’t mean physical touch the other person. That may not be appropriate. I mean you need to touch the other person with a feeling of caring. This goes beyond liking something about the other person or showing interest in the other person, both of which I addressed above.

Last week I was delivering a program for the U.S. Army on “Women in Leadership.” One of the program participants came up to me at the end of the program and said, “Dr. Zimmerman, you probably don’t recall the conversation we had 15 years ago, but you asked me if I was happy with my career, if I was doing what I really wanted to do. Your comments got me thinking in a way that changed my life.”

Wow! To think that someone listened that closely to me was humbling and reaffirming. Once again, I was reminded that there is no finer compliment than to have someone listen to us. And listening to others in a way that touches them with caring is one of the best things you can do for others.

When you listen with caring, you are saying, “I am listening to you and only you right now. You are getting all of me. No distractions. No mind wandering. No looking at the papers on my desk. No checking my smart phone. You’re getting all my attention because you’re important to me.”

E = Empathize with the other person

Somehow or other, you’ve got to show the other person that you understand what he is thinking, feeling and saying. Paraphrase some of his major points by saying such things as: “If I understand you correctly … What I think you’re saying is … It sounds like you’re feeling … and … So the bottom line seems to be.”

When he knows that you know what he’s thinking and feeling and trying to say, a huge degree of trust enters the relationship. Caution is replaced with openness and distance is replaced by engagement.


N = Need the other person

It’s easy for all of us to get distracted and let our minds wander. It’s easy to go from our average 25% listening effectiveness to 0% if we don’t feel as though we need something from the other person.

The best way to need the other person in a listening situation is to enter the conversation with one question in mind. What is something I can USE in what the other person is saying? When you’re on the hunt for something you can use, you will always find something. It may be something tiny or something big, but it will be there if you’re listening for it