“Are you really listening…or are you just waiting for your turn to talk?” ~ Robert Montgomery

Recently while preparing for a presentation to a state association of physicians, I came across an article about the 18-second rule—how some doctors jump to conclusions about diagnosis or treatment before getting all the facts.

“Blame the 18 Second Rule!” advises Dr. Groopman, author of How Doctors Think and a professor of medicine at Harvard. “That’s the average time it takes a doctor to interrupt you as you’re describing your symptoms. By that point, he/she has in mind what the answer is, and that answer is probably right about 80% of the time.” But what about the other 20%? With testing and analysis that percentage can be reduced. “It’s not that doctors lack sufficient clinical knowledge, but are rather tripped up by their biases,” writes Dr. Groopman.

Successful leaders understand that listening is a powerful tool that provides knowledge and wisdom. Understanding that when we talk we may be imparting information but we are not gaining knowledge or feedback until we listen.

Why? The point I’m making is this: many times we have years of experience, expertise and knowledge in our professions that lead us to preconceived solutions. This is not a bad thing, but by carefully listening we can increase our success rate and get things right the first time!

Another problem is once we jump to a conclusion we tend to defend our position before assessing all the facts. I think this is human nature that we want to be right. But by listening we can gain a clearer understanding of the problem, issue or opportunity before making a decision.

You would think that astute listening would be required by common sense, but unfortunately we tend to speak more then we listen.

Effective listening shows your client or customer that you are engaged and interested in the information that is being given. It also provides the foundation for clear understanding in developing a solid business relationship.

How? Five tips that will improve your listening skills:

1. Be committed to the idea that listening is an important skill

2. Ask open-ended questions and then listen for verbal and nonverbal information

3. Take notes to show your interest and capture vital information

4. Listen with your ears, eyes, intuition and mind

5. Stay focused and don’t be derailed by distractions

We all have good intentions but remember that actions speak louder than words.