Monday, August 24, 2015

Being a Good Listener Is Hard - 3 Things That Will Make a Difference

I've said it countless times: "Practically nobody is a good listener."

While this is true, it makes me think: I've got to stop saying this. It has a tone of condemnation.

Because I know most people would like to be better listeners. The benefits are enormous. What you find out! The amazing way it strengthens relationships. And yes, because you've been burned so many times by being a lousy listener.

But realistically, listening well is hard. There are reasons for this.

One reason is that people don't make it easy for you to listen well. They ramble, giving voice to everything in their head. They don't get to the point. Often they aren't sure themselves what point they want to make. They just feel like venting. They repeat themselves. They use indefinite pronouns such as "it" and "this" and you have to guess what they're talking about. They mention the names of people you don't know. They change the subject. They start their story at the middle, skip to the end and omit the beginning. For reasons of their own, they leave out certain key facts. They push your emotional buttons.

You know what I'm talking about.

Then there are the distractions. Your brain can pay attention to only one thing at a time. If you glance at your smartphone, notice an unusual bird outside your window, catch the lyrics of an oldie-but-goodie on the radio, your attention will shift away from the speaker and for those moments you will no longer be conscious of what the person is saying.

Likewise there's all that stuff going on in your head. You think about something you've got to do. Something about what you're hearing triggers a memory. You start planning what you want to say back. The person says something that annoys you or offends you and you feel irritated, even angry. Same principle. If you shift your attention to any of this stuff, it will cause you to miss some of what the person is saying.

You know what I'm talking about.

Maybe you know how to be a good listener. Maybe you attended the course, saw the video, read the book. You know what to do.

But there's a good reason why you don't listen that way. Nobody taught you how to listen well when you were young. When people talked to you, you just reacted the way everybody else did. You only partially paid attention, continuing to do whatever you were doing. When you disagreed, you interrupted to offer your own opinions. You criticized what they were saying. You argued, debated, tried to convince people how wrong they were. When somebody talked about a problem, you jumped in with your advice. Or you just ignored the other person.

Now, 40 years later, these old listening habits are hardwired. These are the behaviors that kick in automatically, before you can stop yourself and consciously try to do what the experts have encouraged you to do.

You know what I'm talking about. Listening is hard, man.

But if you really do appreciate the benefits of listening well and you really do want to listen effectively more often, here are three things you can do that will set you up for more success.

1. Adopt a "listening mindset." I'm talking about a pro-listening attitude that goes something like this: I need to appreciate that the other person's thoughts and feelings are important to me, so when she tries to tell me something, rather than reacting negatively or assuming I understand, I check to be sure I actually get the message.

I recommend that you memorize this. It probably won't pop into your head unless you do.

2. Consciously try to recognize "listening moments." There's a difference between conversation and listening. Conversation is cool, you just enjoy being with the other person, sharing your experiences, thoughts and opinions. However When you're listening, you're consciously trying to grasp what the other person is getting at. Yes, this is challenging, but when you know you should be listening, getting the message is your goal.

3. Memorize the steps of effective listening. How can you consciously listen the way experts say you should if you've forgotten what to do? After you sense that this is a "listening moment" do this:

  • Give the person your undivided attention. Block out stuff going on in your head or in your environment
  • Listen for the meaning. Sort through the nonverbals and all the words to find "the point."
  • Check what you think you understood. Say back in your own words the point you believe they're trying to make
  • Encourage the person to continue talking. You want to hear the whole story so you can keep checking the message and get to the bottom of it.

Yes, it's hard to be a good listener. I think it's hard because our old habits kick in before we have the presence of mind to do anything else.

It doesn't do any good to know what to do if you're not doing it. I believe if you set yourself up to listen well - bring a listening mindset to your encounters, recognize listening moments when they happen, and have the four steps of effective listening burned into your brain so you don't have to struggle to remember what you should do - you'll have a better chance of pulling it off, no matter how much is working against you.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2015. Building Personal Strength .

Friday, July 10, 2015

Life Wisdom Still Current after 2,000 Years

Epictetus (c. 55 – 135) was born a slave in Turkey nearly 2,000 years ago and then lived in Rome until he was banished to Greece.

He was one of the Stoic philosophers. Epictetus taught that philosophy had to be more than theoretical; it had to be the way you lived your life. To him, external events were beyond one's control and we should accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.

Here are a dozen of my favorite quotes from Epictetus, taken from "Discourses," by Arrian, who wrote down his master's teachings:

ATTITUDE - “Men are disturbed, not by the things that happen, but by their opinion of the things that happen.”

CHARACTER - “Seek not the good in external things; seek it in yourselves.”

CHARACTER - "It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters."

DECISIVENESS - “In every affair consider what precedes and follows, and then undertake it.”

INITIATIVE - “First, say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”

OPTIMISM - "He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.

PATIENCE - "No great thing is created suddenly.”

PATIENCE - “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.”

SELF-DEVELOPMENT - “First, learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.”

SELF-DEVELOPMENT - “The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.”

SELF-DISCIPLINE - “No man is free who is not master of himself.”

SELF-DISCIPLINE - “Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire.”

These and over 3,000 other personally selected quotes are one of the many personal development resources featured in the many versions of ProStar Coach, the world's premier virtual coaching system. It's worth checking out.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2015. Building Personal Strength .

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Huge Danger of Interstellar Space Travel That Scientists Rarely Mention

Nine years ago, NASA launched the New Horizons probe to take close-up photos and sensings of the dwarf planet Pluto, which has been the object of scientific curiosity for over a century.

The report said that scientists are concerned about the spacecraft, traveling at 32,500 mph, because the closer it gets to Pluto, the greater the chance it might run into a small particle of space matter. According to officials, "At such speeds, a collision with an object as small as a grain of rice could prove catastrophic."

The reason is that a particle the size of a grain of rice hitting the craft at 32,500 mph would have super-high kinetic energy. If such a rice-size pebble hit your car windshield at only 32 mph, it could leave a crack. Now imagine the damage that tiny object would do if it hit a spacecraft that was travelling 1,000 times as fast.

Check this.

It wasn't easy to get the New Horizons spacecraft to travel at 32,500 mph. But at that speed, it would take 80,000 years to reach the nearest star. Because of the realities of "interstellar" space travel, imaginative engineers are trying to develop faster propulsion systems.

NASA promotes this effort because of the idea that the "human species" needs to be a "two-planet species" to survive a future mass extinction catastrophe. The second planet can't be Mars, because it will never support human life, nor will any other body in our solar system. Hence, scientists also focus on traveling to distant star systems.

To take humans to a distant star will require a spacecraft that travels thousands of times faster than New Horizons. But the faster a craft goes, the higher the kinetic energy if the craft hits a tiny particle, even one as small as a particle of dust. Avoiding such a tiny collision at enormous speed, which would destroy the spacecraft, presents a far greater engineering challenge than building a faster propulsion system.

Remember this the next time you read the next cool article about "two-planet species" or "interstellar travel" or "advanced propulsion system."

Because there's a vast difference between science fact and science fiction.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2015. Building Personal Strength .

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Modern Classic: Jack Canfield's 2015 edition of "The Success Principles"

During the past century there have been many dozens of books about how to live a happy, successful life. A few examples of the better-known classics:
  • Think and Grow Rich - Napoleon Hill
  • The Power of Positive Thinking - Norman Vincent Peale
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People - Stephen Covey
Do you have a favorite?

Now you can add the 10th anniversary edition of Jack Canfield's The Success Principles. Building on ideas that have stood the test of time, this beautifully written book addresses over 65 topics, such as "Decide What You Want," "Believe in Yourself," "Take Action," "Reject Rejection," "Believe in Yourself," and "Embrace Change."

Instead reinventing the wheel or giving old concepts new names, this book is like an encyclopedia of the most effective success strategies. Each chapter nails its topic with Jack Canfield's elegant way of saying things. Take this quote, for example:

Simple but profound. After all, what in life is completely under your control? Canfield is right: your thoughts, your images, and your actions. Few people manage these three aspects of their life well.

If you enjoy reading an occasional book on success, I recommend this one. It's the latest, and one of the best, in a long series of classics.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2015. Building Personal Strength .

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How to Create a Coaching Culture

There's a quiet revolution happening in organizations.

Until recently, helping managers and employees improve their ability to perform was the responsibility of HR staff, corporate trainers, consultants, and hired professional coaches. If you asked a supervisor what he or she was doing to help team members be better team members, the typical answer was, "That's not my job."

But why shouldn't a first-line supervisor want to help direct reports get better at what they do? For that matter, why shouldn't team members help each other perform better? It would only make their jobs easier!

The answer is that they don't know how to play that role. They have no confidence in their ability to coach someone who is trying to improve.

The solution presents itself in Thomas G. Crane's book, The Heart of Coaching, 4th Edition. The vision and purpose of the book is to help organizations establish a coaching culture, in which people at all levels take an active role in helping others in the organization work on improving skills.

The Crane's transformational coaching model has three simple phases: Foundation, Feedback, and Forwarding-the-action. Crane is a superb writer, and he clearly describes what's involved in each of these phases. The latter part of the book delivers all the how-to instruction and tips anyone would need to be effective in the coaching role.

Imagine the benefits to an organization if it successfully established a coaching culture! Learning would be so much easier. Performing at a high level would become commonplace. Human interactions would be mutually supportive. Who wouldn't want to work in an environment like that?

If this possibility excites you, I strongly recommend that you read and study The Heart of Coaching, one of the best business books of 2014.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2015. Building Personal Strength .