Listen to This

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
Winston Churchill, former prime minister of Great Britain

The Key to Effective CommunicationIn the nonstop battle for better communication, you’ve got to take the TIME to make it happen. Effective communication does not take place “on the run” or “in the quick.”

And if you’re not willing to take the TIME to communicate well, then you had better give up your fantasies about having a healthy relationship at home or engaged teamwork on the job. It “ain’t gonna” happen.

Once you decide to take the TIME to communicate, the second step in your journey towards better communication has to be LISTENING. In fact, it’s so important that the English decided that it could be life-saving.

You see … hundreds of years ago, the English cemeteries were running out of space. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. To avoid that tragedy in the future, they began tying a string on the wrist of the corpse, leading it through the coffin and up through the ground, and tying it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to LISTEN for the bell. Thus, someone could be “saved by the bell” or was considered to be “a dead ringer.” In those cases, listening was literally the difference between life and death.

And I would suggest that your listening skills … or lack of them … can easily be the difference between success and failure in your communication, your relationships, and your work. So how can you LISTEN effectively?

I like author Dan Kennedy’s LISTEN acronym … which stands for the 6 key skills.

L = Like the other person
I = Interest yourself in the other person
S = See the other person
T = Touch the other person
E = Empathize with the other person
N = Need the other person

Let’s take a closer look.

L = Like the other person

Some people are easy to like. In fact you like almost everything about them. And other people will be much more difficult to like. However, you must find something you like about the person you’re listening to … because your feelings always come through … and they always affect the quality of your interaction.

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. Whatever it is, find something you like, because when a person senses your liking, the communication barriers start to fall down.

I = Interest yourself in the other person

It’s very difficult to listen to someone … to really listen … 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. EVERYbody can be interesting. As G.K. Chesterton, a British author noted, “In all this world, there is no such thing as an uninteresting subject, only uninterested people.”

I re-learned this lesson last week 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

By “seeing,” I’m not referring so much to the use of your eyes as the use of your heart. “See” the other person so he feels noticed, heard, and appreciated rather than invisible.

Perhaps this need to be “seen” accounts for an amazing fact. Interviews with prostitutes reveal many men pay them for their services as listeners, rather than intimate partners!

In essence, most everyone is starved for the attention of a good listener! And this tremendous universal need means that listening is well worth the time it takes … because when you’re good at it, you can literally name your price! When you’re good at listening, people will buy more from you, open doors to important contacts for you, work harder for you, love and respect you.

T = Touch the other person

Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean touching in the physical sense. You need to touch the other person with feeling. It’s going beyond “liking” the other person or showing “interest” in the other person to actually “caring” about the other person.

That’s exactly how Margaret Pederson made me feel. She attended my two-day “Journey to the Extraordinary” program last week and even though she is 92 years of age, she is passionate about making a difference in this world. She sat in the front row for 16 hours, furiously taking notes, engaging with every participant, and learning as much as she could. That impressed me.

But what really “touched” me was a comment she made to me. She said, “I heard you speak 30 years ago, and your presentation changed my life. I bought a copy of your talk on a cassette tape, listened to it dozens of times, eventually memorized it, and typed it out word for word, and have used what you taught me ever since.”

To think that someone listened that closely to me was humbling and reaffirming. Listening counts … big time. Make sure you’re doing it … big time.

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 is impossible to overemphasize this vital part of listening. Being needed is the ultimate compliment. It reassures the person you are talking to that he or she is important, recognized, and respected. Knowing this, it just makes good sense to give this reassurance to everyone with whom you are attempting to communicate.

A good way to communicate your need for the other person is to emphasize the words “need” and “important.” Say such things as: “I need to hear what you have to say … I need your input on this project … or … Your thoughts are very important to me.”

When you become a good listener, you build rapport with other people. When you become a great listener, people will do everything in their power to maintain that rapport and help you succeed. As motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to say, “You can get everything you want in life if you just help enough people get what they want.”

And what do they want? They want you to LISTEN!!!


When you look at the L-I-S-T-E-N formula, which aspect will you focus on this week? Pick one and work on it. Master it.