A Great Experiment in Listening
The next time you’re out with a group of people, having lunch or at some other social event, try this little experiment. It has two parts:
Part 1: Don't Talk
Unless you are asked a direct question, stay silent. Look interested and remain entirely focused on whoever is talking. Nod and smile when it’s appropriate and, unless you’re expecting notification of an imminent zombie apocalypse, do not look at your cell phone — not even once.
Keep doing this for as long as the group is together – ideally for at least an hour. Keep a close eye on the dynamics of the room, and here’s what you’ll start to see:
- People will look more frequently at you as they are talking. People like to talk with people who listen.
- The more you nod and quietly affirm what the talkers are saying, the frequency increases as they begin looking at you for confirmation and support.
- When other people jump in with comments and questions, they will subconsciously start glancing at you to gauge your reactions.
Part 2: Ask at least one, but no more than two, questions per talker
Make a point to ask talkers a question. At least one, but no more than two. Make the questions simple, positive, and ones that give talkers the opportunity to look good. For example, if the talker is going on about how he (she) won over a difficult customer, you might ask, “Wow, how did you keep your composure when the customer got so angry?”
Watch again how the dynamics begin to change. You will start to see this:
- The phenomenon you saw during Part 1 becomes significantly magnified. If you continue this long enough, you will become the primary focal point for all discussion.
- People will begin to direct questions at you, looking for affirmation – like “Wow, isn’t that crazy?!”
- People will begin asking for your opinions on things. (As much as you may want to, however, don’t give them. Defer to what the talkers have said with things like, “Beth makes a good point.”)
- The people in your group will begin interacting with you more — long after you’ve done this little experiment. They will look for, and respect, your opinions more. They will include you in things that you’ve never before included in before.
Two cool things about this experiment
There are two cool things to note about this experiment. The first is that, if you do this repeatedly, the phenomenon of people being attracted to you just continues to magnify. The second is that nobody else will have any idea that you’ve conducted this experiment.
One of the reasons that this experiment works so quickly and the results are so dramatic is that good listeners are in incredibly short supply. The reality is that most people prefer talking – and most of us aren’t nearly as good at listening as we think we are. (If you’ve been to one of our workshops that included the talking/listening exercises, I’ll bet you’re nodding right now). Most people are riveted to their phones, thinking about what they want to say next, or are busy thinking about things completely unrelated to the conversation.
Are you a listener or a talker?
There’s nothing wrong with talking, of course. After all, if nobody talked, things would start to get a little weird. But the reality is that people who are truly good listeners have an incredible edge. They are better liked, they are more respected, they build stronger relationships and they have greater influence.
Try the little experiment above. Seriously – don’t just think it’s a cool idea – try it. There is absolutely zero downside to it, and the upside is colossal.
“I’ve rarely gotten in trouble by keeping my mouth shut”
– Shaun Belding –
This is reprinted with permission from The Outstanding Customer Service Blog