Mary Kay Ash said that, in order to succeed in sales as well as life overall, we should each “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’” John Dewey, an American philosopher, said that the deepest human desire is “to be important”. So how do we go about making others feel important? Should we greet them with an honorific? Should we flatter and seek to boost their egos? Should we curtsey?
Honorifics have their place and help to convey respect, certainly. A curtsey or bow is sometimes called for. Many interactions, however, will require neither of those. And flattery is insincere and therefore a waste. The key to making people feel important is simple: just listen.
Now, I didn’t say it would be easy. Most things described as “simple” are not “easy” because they require some kind of a change. “Simplification” is a process. If you’re not a good listener, all you can do is: try, try again. Practice, after all, makes perfect.
The thing about listening is, it’s active. This is another one of those concepts that took me a while to grasp – the very phrase seemed misleading. How can listening be active? We’re not talking; we’re not doing anything but sitting there and staring at the other person… but that’s wrong. When you are listening, it’s true that you shouldn’t be talking – that’s called interrupting, and is, as you probably learned in kindergarten, very rude – but you should be working to understand what the other person is saying.
One of the things that many of us “good communicators” do is prepare how we’re going to respond, while the other person is still talking. You want to be on your toes, right? You don’t want to seem like you can’t hold up your end of the conversation. Well, guess what? You’re doing it wrong. In Dale Carnegie’s iconic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Isaac F. Marcosson, a celebrity journalist, is credited with saying that people fail to make a favorable impression because they don’t listen attentively: “They have been so much concerned with what they are going to say next that they do not keep their ears open”.
If you have a really hard time listening – for example perhaps you get bored and start planning your grocery list, or you start looking around the room instead of focusing on the person you’re conversing with – Mindtools.com offers this tip:
“Try repeating their words mentally as they say them – this will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.”
Here’s a bonus that comes with listening well: It makes you seem more interesting. Dale Carnegie says “To be interesting, be interested”. This is because people like talking about themselves and their ideas; if you give them a chance to do that, and you seem genuinely interested, they will, consequently, like you. So, hand-in-hand with being a good listener is encouragement.
Encourage others to talk about themselves and their interests. Ask questions (another component of active listening). Show some enthusiasm. Even if you aren’t totally on-board with what they’re saying – in fact, especially if you’re not totally on-board with it. Questions further communication; they open doors. Simply passing judgement by deciding that you’re not going to be interested is a door-closer. So you don’t like to talk about the types of submarines used in World War II – maybe you’ll learn something anyway. At the very least keep an open mind, and demonstrate that somehow. Don’t shut down emotionally – if you’re emotionally withdrawn, your physical presence won’t buy you a penny’s worth of dirt. You need to be actively participating by actively listening.
Really, making people feel important is as “simple” as following the Golden Rule. Don’t you want to be listened to? Don’t you want to feel that your thoughts, opinions, ideas and interests have value? Do you want to talk to someone who is looking around the room, fidgeting with their nails, making a mental “to-do” list? You have it in you to be a good listener – just think of how you would want someone to behave while you were talking, and do that. Simple. Right?