As a leader in your operation, you help others solve problems. You encourage, you push, you inspire, you coach. But, you can’t do any of these things without being a good listener.
“The first rule in good listening is to listen with a caring heart,” says Val Farmer, a clinical psychologist and author who has specialized in rural mental health and family relationships during his 30-year career. “Then the speaker feels understood.”
Most people are poor listeners, Farmer says. This is because their minds are too good—distractions are everywhere and farming runs at a fast pace.
“We can listen at 300 words a minute, but speakers are talking to 120 to 160 words a minute,” he says. “So, our 300-word-a-minute mind is thinking about our side of the argument and we interrupt or tune out.”
But, don’t be discouraged or let your fast mind be an excuse. Farmer says his best advice to a poor listener is: You can’t give your own opinion. Instead, you need to ask leading questions.
“When you listen, you understand the other person’s side of the issue,” he says. “You can care about it and help solve their problem. Fifty percent of the time you should be a listener.”
Be "humble and puzzled" (also known as "humzle") when listening to other people. “This means asking questions even when you think you know the answer and letting people voice the obvious instead of assuming you already know the answer,” Farmer says.
Farmer provides these other ground rules for good listening.
- Use good body language to show you are listening. This includes leaning forward, eye contact, posture and welcoming facial expressions.
- Stay in the listening role. If you are going to have a high-stakes discussion, you need to really understand the other person. Don’t be too quick to give your sage advice.
- As a listener, sit at a 45-degree angle from the person who is speaking. Then you can each look away when you need to think.
- Show you care and are listening during the conversations. Use an appropriate tone of voice.
- Don’t interrupt. Speakers need to say all they want to say. When they stop, confirm they have said all they want to say.
- If you become overloaded as the listener, ask to slow down or take a break.
As Ernest Hemingway once said: “When people talk, listen completely.”