Many of us listen with the intent to advice or provide information. We have a lot of “been there, done that” stories to share that we often overlook the fact that the person we are having a conversation with may not be looking for advice, but for a listening ear. We sometimes feel good knowing that we have more information or know a subject better than the other person.
I had a former boss whom I consider an excellent listener. He never cuts me off to give his advice. He listens intently, looks me in the eye, nods for understanding, and asks the occasional question to clarify a point. He is there 100% of the time – no checking of smartphone, no glancing at his watch and no unnecessary interruptions. He understands the human need to be listened to. Whenever we meet, he always gives me a precious gift – his undivided attention.
When I need his advice on the topic being discussed, I have to ask for it, he never volunteers it. And when I do ask, he intelligently and unreservedly gives it to me, no holds barred. His ideas are always thought out, smart, and relevant. After every conversation with him I feel good. He makes me feel respected and relevant. I always look forward to our occasional meetings. I wish I could be more like him.
I am the complete opposite. I listen to advice or provide information. I want to share my wisdom, experiences and knowledge with people. I also have the bad habit of cutting people off when they start rambling. I get impatient when people have difficulty expressing their thoughts. I am aware of these flaws and am working to eradicate them.
Ironically, when I encounter people who listen with the intent to advice or provide information, I tune out very quickly. I don’t need information, I have Google for that. If I need advice I’ll ask for it. Sometimes all we need is human connection to affirm our relevance in this world.
This brings me to another former boss who told me never to forget the three conditions for unsolicited advice. He said when people start advising you about what to do with your life or how to deal with a current situation, you need to ask yourself if they fit into any one of three conditions:
1. Do they put food on your table?
2. Do they put a roof on your head?
3. Do they put money in your pocket?
If you can answer yes to just one of the above conditions, then they have earned the right to advise you. If not, then you can politely excuse yourself from the conversation.
I should give this advice to myself and resist the urge to advise others. If I do this, I will be a more effective listener and communicator. People are generally attracted to good listeners. With the overabundance of information from technology, the world is a noisy place. Sometimes all one needs is a person who genuinely listens, a person who cares.