Holiday Tip: Check Our Listening Skills

Have you tried to reach a “live person” on the phone lately?  It is a recipe for frustration. Many companies seem determined to stop that from happening.

The automated voice requires you push one number after another, and even if it says, “Push zero for a representative.”, it’s a fake-out.  You push zero and it’s another automated menu. Again, you must push a number.  And when none of these are what you need?  Too bad.  Push a number.  Or hang up, and start again, trying a different set of numbers. Aargh!

One day I was trying to reach an insurance company, to explain that the advertising mailers they kept sending me were for a deceased former owner, and perhaps they’d like to take him off their mailing list, and save a little money? After twenty minutes of trying different numbers and menus (note: the choice I needed is not on any of their menus), I chose “insurance policy”, thinking surely that would get a person. Nope! The automated voice instructed me to key in the number of the insurance policy.

At this point, I felt like screaming at the phone.  I was trying to do this company a favor, but they’d made it impossible.  I’d just spent twenty minutes of my life on the phone with automated voices who couldn’t hear my request.

It took me a while to calm down again.

And suddenly, I realized what a great lesson this was for me in the devastating effect of non-listening.  When we cannot get someone to hear what we’re saying, even if it’s just an automated voice, it smacks us right in the solar plexus. Non-listening says to us, “You are not important to me.  I do not care what you need or what you have to say.”  And we hang up, determined never to deal with that company again.

It’s too easy to do with with other people, too, without realizing what we are doing.

It goes like this:  They stop talking and we say what we wanted to say. Then it’s their turn to talk.

But here’s the issue.  If I do that, I’m just like that automated voice.  I haven’t shown that person in any way that I’ve heard them.  Ouch!

So what do we do instead?

Rather than just jump in with my thoughts or ideas when they stop talking, first, I pick out a key idea or two that they just told me, and then say it back to them in my own words.

Amazingly easy.   It just requires paying a bit of attention to them. And does this have some great benefits.

First, if I misunderstood, they have a chance to clarify.  Saves a lot of unnecessary aggravation.  Second, sometimes when they hear their idea out loud, they might decide they don’t think it’s the best thing after all.  (This happens to me.  It sounds great in my head, but….)  And, Third, they know I have truly focused on hearing what they are saying.  And that does fantastic things for our relationship. By actively listening, I have just told them they are important to me, and worth listening to.  Wow!

Before I learned to do this, people would repeat and repeat what they’d said, trying to get some acknowledgement that I’d heard them.  They’d be getting more and more aggravated – just like me at that automated voice.

And now their response is radically different.  I’ve signaled that I’m really listening, and he/she can discuss things with me, and maybe as the conversation progresses, discuss options for problem-solving or whatever’s appropriate.

We both walk away feeling that human connection, with a stronger relationship.  And all I did was take the time to listen, to show them they are important, and worth hearing. Let’s do it!



  1. Kathleen Kistler says:

    It is brilliant to illustrate the effects of not really listening to what happens when we get on one of those “Press 1,2, or 3” phone calls. That is exactly what it feels like when we are not really heard.

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