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Tips To Listening Better From A Lifelong Listener

The greatest gift you can give to someone is your time. Giving your time goes beyond simply just being there. What good is your time if you’re not present? A big part of being present involves doing something that people really just don’t do very much. I would say people don’t do it anymore but in my lifetime (which hasn’t been very long), I don’t recall there ever being a great time of listening. The skill of listening has declined over time with the advent of mobile technology. Now it’s difficult to have a conversation with someone without them checking their phone every four minutes. Further, in a world of instant gratification people only listen long enough to sort of hear what you’re saying to think of their response.

I am a listener. I have always been a listener. I rather talk than listen. That may seem odd for someone who aspires to public speaking, but not really. The one thing a listener really wants is to be heard. People like me spend our lives being present in conversations, not picking up our phones, and clarifying what we just heard. Unfortunately, the favor is rarely returned. One of the many things I have observed as a listener is that people are so used to not being listened to that they will just keep talking until you interrupt them. I get this a lot. I’m listening as a person speaks for five, even ten minutes straight without a break. I rarely interrupt. I don’t like interrupting or being interrupted. Since I don’t interrupt, the person will eventually stop speaking and ask why I’m not contributing or saying anything, almost in frustration. To which I reply “I’m listening to you”. There is almost always a look of shock. People often speak so fast or so much in anticipation of being interrupted. But alas, as a listener 90% of the time, I’m going to let you talk.

I have also come to believe that people are largely unaware of the habits that are making others feel unheard. I’m using heard and listen interchangeably here, but I do distinguish between hearing and listening. Hearing is simply the observation of sound. Listening is interpreting the sound (in this case talking), comprehending it, and reacting accordingly. I do sometimes say “I don’t feel heard” to mean the same as listening. Now with that out of the way, here are tips to becoming a better listener from a life long listener.

Put Down The Device

It really isn’t necessary to have the phone in your hand while talking to someone. I typically don’t even bring my phone to meetings. If it’s a meal, I usually leave it in my bag. I know. It’s just a quick glance. But typically that quick glance is right in the middle of someone else’s story. Or what’s quick to you is much longer to them. If you’re expecting an important message, then set the expectation with the person at the beginning. I have attended meetings where every single person is typing on their computers or punching away at their phones. Yes, everyone is busy. But somehow listeners manage to listen to everyone and get their work done too. For one week when you attend a meeting or hang with friends, leave the phone at the desk or in the car. You can’t give someone your time if your nose is buried in a screen.

Resist The Urge To Interrupt – Better Yet, Don’t

The reason I don’t interrupt is because I’m focused on what the person is saying. I do interrupt at times. Sometimes it’s out of excitement, other times the person may have misunderstood a piece of information and needs a course correction. Sometimes I interrupt because I realize the person won’t stop talking until I do or I just want to say what I want to say. The reason you shouldn’t interrupt isn’t simply because it’s rude. You can’t understand what the other person is saying, feeling, or thinking if you’re talking over them. The message you’re unintentionally sending is that what they want to communicate doesn’t matter to you. You have something to say and you’re going to say it. This is also how misunderstandings get started. I have amazing recall for conversations, not because I have an incredible memory, it’s because I’m listening in the first place. For one week don’t interrupt anyone for any reason.

Repeat What They Say

A great technique for active listening is to repeat what the person said to you but in your own words. This lets the other person know you’re listening and solidifies the information in your own mind. A great way to do this is to say “This is what I heard you say…… Is that correct?” I once knew a person who would say they understood what I was saying but then when it was repeated back to me at a later date it was drastically different and damaging. This was completely frustrating because it meant clearly the person wasn’t listening and projected something entirely wrong on to me. For one week repeat back to the person what you heard them say in your own words. If they correct you, say it again until they agree.

Don’t Reinterpret The Message

This can be a tricky one. Some people are very direct. They say what they mean and mean what they say. Others speak in veiled language. There is a time for both. It’s going to take some knowledge of the person, but don’t assume every message is a veiled one. An example of veiled language is to say a house is cozy when it’s small. Here is another example. Once upon a time I was interviewing for a role. I asked the interviewer, who was the VP of something, what his leadership philosophy is. His response was “so what you’re really asking me is what do I do.” It was an interview so I responded with “sure”, but what I really wanted to say was “no”. I asked exactly what I wanted to know and the reinterpretation was so far off. This becomes easier as you get to know a person. You’ll know when they’re using veiled language versus being more direct. For one week just assume that people you don’t know well are saying what they mean, don’t reinterpret it.

Enjoy The Freedom

Allow the conversation to go where it goes, within reason of course. Another aspect of non-listening behavior I’ve observed is the need to keep the conversation rigid. Because the talker is talking and not listening, they want to keep the conversation focused where they want it to be. Have you ever been having a conversation with someone where you apologized for something and they just kept talking about it? They continued to talk about why they were hurt or offended or upset, and completely grazed over the apology that they seem to want so badly? We have all been there. Had the other person been listening the discussion could have been allowed to move in a different direction. One of the reasons I like listening is because, every now and again, the conversation can become so random it’s fun. You get to learn so much about people and it’s cool. It’s also freeing to just sort of go where the conversation takes you. For one week just go with the flow, within reason. I mean, if you’re supposed to be talking about fixing world hunger, you should probably stick with that.

The next time you find the other person in the conversation isn’t talking very much consider two things. One, you may be doing most of the talking and it’s time to listen; and two they are a listener and would really welcome the opportunity to talk if they know they’ll be heard. Encourage them to contribute. By the way, most great leaders are also great listeners.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.

Six Skills Required For The Art of Having Grit

What does it mean to have grit? The dictionary defines grit as “courage or resolve; the strength of character; and mental toughness”. I once asked a senior leader what he looks for in people he hires to his team. The things he mentioned were the usual suspects save one – raw talent, smart, coachable, flexible and grit. Two things stood out to me about this list. First, there was no mention of knowing how to do everything, that’s where raw talent and coachable comes in. You can teach people what you want them to do but if the other aspects aren’t already present in the person, it doesn’t really matter. Second, this was the first time I ever heard a leader use the word grit when describing the ideal employee. I agree the most talented people in any organization have a certain amount of grit, but it’s usually described with fancier words such as perseverance, courage, brave, determination, etc. The reason I like the word grit and I like that he used the word grit is because it’s a simple word. It drives at the essence of what people need today in the workplace, in life, in business and so on. It’s visual and raw. You get the sense that others don’t mess with a person that has grit. If they do, they quickly find out the true meaning of the word.

A word of caution about grit though. If one of the aspects overpower the others it can come across as bullying, arrogant, mean, pessimistic, so on and so forth. There is a delicate balance and art to having grit. You have to know when to be hard versus soft; when to be steel versus silk; and when to be loud versus quiet. There is a certain wisdom to having grit.

To Thine Own Self Be True

A basic component of having grit is to know your weaknesses, strengths, and triggers. When you know and embrace these three things you can shift your energy and actions accordingly to manage almost any situation. For example, if you embrace people not following instructions is a big trigger for you ask someone else to manage certain processes for you. If you have to go it alone, set up a system that relies on your strengths to deal with those types of situations. You may decide to set up a call with everyone to walk people through a process at once. That way you’re not repeating it over and over which only serves to flip the trigger over and over.

Additionally, embracing your weaknesses, strengths and triggers will allow you to identify your boundaries and communicate them to others.

Solve The Problem

Finger pointing or “throwing others under the bus” is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. When I worked in trading we had very little time to make tough decisions. We’re talking a minute or two, if that. There was no time to focus on the outcomes of a problem or even people’s feelings. We simply had to solve the problem, identify the fix and implement the solution. Did tempers flare sometimes? Absolutely, we’re talking about billions of dollars a day in transactions. But tempers got way worse if the issue became repetitive. It meant the problem wasn’t solved, merely the symptoms were treated.

Problem solving is an important component of having grit because people with grit tend to power through situations. You rarely hear people with grit complaining that somebody else did something. They explain the issue, how the issue came about, the potential solutions, and then set about fixing it.

Find The Signal In The Noise

This goes hand-in-glove with solving the problem, the signal versus the noise. People with grit outright ignore noise but recognize that the static is surrounding something. They look for the something. Think of it this way. When you’re trying to tune into a radio station and you are one or two numbers off you can hear the program but it’s covered with a bunch of static. You have to turn the dial (or push the button) to fine tune the station to hear it crystal clear. That’s what people with grit do. They analyze the information they are receiving and have the ability to distinguish the static from the crystal clear signal and that’s what they act on. They don’t exhaust themselves trying to focus on the program through the noise or even deal with the noise. The noise is a smoke screen and drains everyone’s energy.

Find A Way And Fire That Engine

One of my favorite movie lines is from Armageddon. They are about to take off from the asteroid but the shuttle won’t start. Bruce Willis’ character is outside ready to sacrifice himself to save the world but the remaining crew tells Houston Control they can’t take off. Houston Control replies back “if there’s not a way, you find a way, now fire that engine!” Spoiler alert, they do get the engine started. But I love that line so much because it nicely sums up the heart of a person with grit – if you don’t immediately see a way, find or make a way. People with grit exhaust every possibility of which they can conceive. They ask others for ideas and exhaust those. Only after trying a thousand different things do they concede they haven’t found the answer…yet, rarely do they use the word “impossible”. Results are the primary goal – not titles or accolades. That will come regardless, those with grit, however, are interested in earning them.

Exercise Wisdom

People with grit aren’t all bark and all bite. They know when it’s time to bark, when it’s time to bite and when it’s time for a belly rub. Despite how true grit is depicted in the movie of the same name, it doesn’t mean a gritty person is one who is hard all of the time. They have times of softness and vulnerability, especially with those they are charged with leading. Having grit doesn’t mean lacking feelings or emotions or keeping them to yourself. That’s just silly and damaging. To tell people that they can’t express their emotions, passions, etc. in a work environment is saying you don’t want humans working for you. Of course, this should be done professionally and not in a destructive manner but being able to cut through the noise to fix problems requires open expression. Being smart is about knowing how to do, being wise is about knowing when to do. Sometimes silence speaks volumes and sometimes volume speaks volume.

Courage Under Fire

One of the hardest things in the world is for people to admit they’re wrong or made a mistake. Since I’m on a movie roll I’ll keep it going. The movie Courage Under Fire was about literal courage under fire and the lack thereof. Denzel Washington’s character is posthumously awarding Meg Ryan’s character’s the Medal of Honor for her bravery in action in Desert Storm (literal courage under fire). The investigation reveals she died from friendly fire and it was covered up resulting in the one responsible committing suicide after being questioned (lack of courage under fire). Someone with grit owns their mistakes, their wrongs, admits it and learns from it. When they receive feedback they consider it whether they agree with it or not. If they push back against the feedback it’s done so with facts and figures, not excuses or conjecture. They invite the other side to do so as well.  These are people you cannot easily scare or intimidate, nor do they seek to scare and intimidate. They meet fact with fact and fiction with fact because they are interested in the signal not the noise. They say what needs to be said, in the manner in which it needs to be said, even when it’s not the popular thing to say.

Endure Optimistically

Last, but not least, someone with grit can endure unpleasantness for a long time. They can endure the rough times and do so with an eye on the future state. They are working toward a better state or a greater good and know that sludge is par for the course. They are loyal and don’t abandon the ship the second the waters get rough. They adapt and make do. When someone abandons ship they don’t focus on it, they pick up the slack or assign it to someone else. They inspire others to do the same. They don’t leave a man or woman behind. They do all of this with a good attitude. That doesn’t mean they won’t get upset, frustrated or discouraged at times. It means that when they do they rely on their mental toughness and fortitude to regroup to get themselves and others back on track.

When you hear of people having grit and wonder if you have it too, think on this list of characteristics. Do you have them? If not, you can cultivate them. Start by looking for and partnering with the closet person with true grit you can find. You may find you have more grit than you think. Take a look at the very top of your organization, your C-suite. Do you think they have grit or are they more political? In a world that values quick fixes and instant gratification is it harder to have grit? And when does grit go too far? I would love to hear your thoughts on the art of grit.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.

Habits of Wealthy People – Build It & Keep It

It’s easy to say the words “build wealth”, but the practice of building wealth takes discipline. I learned the definitions in schools, but I didn’t learn HOW to create wealth for myself. The basics are simple, make sure your assets cover your debts.

Here are some habits. These practices are employed by some of the richest (and wealthiest) people on Earth.

Drive a modest car: it isn’t necessary to have the most expensive, flashy car out there. At the end of the day you want to get from point A to point B. Me personally, I like to have comforts and features I’m willing to pay a little more for, but I stick to what’s affordable and needs little maintenance investment. Reportedly Mark Zuckerberg drives a modest $30,000 Acura TSX entry-level sedan.

Buy a modest house: when I lived in Minneapolis I owned a modest house in a nice neighborhood with retired people and young families. The price was within my range and it wasn’t the biggest house on the block. At the end of my block lived the founder of a major restaurant chain. Could he have lived in a more prestigious or affluent neighborhood? Absolutely! But he had what he needed to be happy, NOT what he need to impress others. Warren Buffet’s primary home is the one he bought in 1958 for $31,500.

Choose your splurges: don’t spend to impress. Pick one or two areas you like to spend on and stick with that within your means. If you like to have a nice wardrobe, plan for some higher spending there while keeping other areas modest or low. Make a budget for those splurges and stick to it.

Look for deals: it isn’t necessary to pay full price because you can. Always check to see if you can get something cheaper or for a bargain. Or find out if there’s a cheaper version of what you want. There are all sorts of websites and apps where you can compare prices or download discount codes. Don’t shy away from coupons. A personal favorite site of mine is www.ebates.com. You get money back for the things you buy.

Make a plan: make a plan work the plan. Winning the lottery is not a plan. Sit down and write out what your goals are and how you will achieve them. If you want to pay off your credit cards, come up with an action plan. If you want to invest more, come up with a plan. The plan must have starting\ending points, goals, and executable steps. A great place to start is to know your credit score. Wealthy people have one thing in common, they are people of action. They are not waiting around for the Universe to just drop money in their hands. They show the Universe they want it and deserve it.

Give: wealthy people give of their money and their time. It’s important to put out into the Universe what you want to receive. More importantly wealthy people want to share their happiness and abundance to help others succeed. Don’t believe me? Check out Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates, Oprah, etc. They get more than money can provide by giving what money provides.

What other habits of wealthy people are there, share your thoughts below. Don’t forget to like and share this post within your community.