Becoming a Better Listener

In today’s noisy society, silence is practiced less but valued more. Most of us don’t listen well because we can get away with it. We nod, look concerned, mumble “umm-hmm,” without really listening to the person talking to us. We try to have a phone conversation while doing work, reading mail, eating or driving. With all these distractions, it’s no wonder we’re a society of poor listeners.

In a service industry like fitness, it is crucial that we listen to our members and clients in an effort to better assist them. Too often, a fitness instructor prescribes a standard exercise program without ever determining a client’s fitness level, interests, schedule and potential roadblocks.

Although we all know how to talk, few of us are taught to listen. Read on for specific suggestions for enhanced listening from the book The Art of Winning Conversation by Morey Stettner.

1. Expect to learn. The whole point of listening is to learn something. When you anticipate that you will learn something, you automatically become a better listener. You don’t have to agree or disagree, since listening does not oblige you to pick a side. You don’t need to do anything but stay focused on the speaker’s remarks. If you don’t understand something or a subject is new to you, ask the speaker to clarify or slow down so you can listen properly.

2. Don’t judge the speaker. We immediately and automatically assess people and form a first impression that can affect our receptivity. We naturally listen better to someone we find attractive and similar to us. Look for the good in people, give them the benefit of the doubt and remember that you are trying to learn something. Even if you disagree with the person’s remarks or think they “don’t know what they are talking about,” try to hear them before jumping in with your comments.

3. Physically prepare to listen. Stay at a close but comfortable distance from the speaker or lean forward in your chair. Align yourself physically with the speaker; stand if he/she is standing and, likewise, be seated if he/she is seated. Also, try to duplicate the mannerism being presented. In other words, if the speaker is relaxed, you are relaxed. On the phone, resist the temptation to do anything besides listening.

4. Maintain eye contact. In busy fitness centers, plenty of distractions compete for our attention. Train yourself to ignore background noise and motion and, instead, focus squarely on the speaker. Imagine having blinders on your peripheral vision and stay looking straight ahead. Obviously, on the phone, you cannot maintain eye contact, but continue to picture the speaker in your mind and look away from distractions.

5. Acknowledge the speaker’s comments. An occasional “umm-hmm” or “uh-huh” lets the speaker know that you are following along, especially over the phone. Stettner suggests giving this monosyllabic feedback about every 15 seconds. In person, non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, laughter or a nodding head are helpful as well.

6. Ensure that you can hear. Because background noise is common almost everywhere, try to limit it during conversations by closing a door, turning down music, or stepping into a back office, a hallway or outside.

If you are having trouble hearing, be sure to stop and ask the speaker to repeat or clarify. If you don’t understand a word or concept, ask questions immediately.

The worst thing you can do is simply continue nodding, hoping that you will catch up later. If you do, you may find yourself in the awkward position of being asked a question and being uncertain of the subject or context. Or you may miss a very important point the speaker makes.

July 16th, 2012 - Posted in Fitness | | Comments Off

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