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Listening is a critical skill for growth and leadership, but how many of us actually listen well?
A consultant friend of mine recently told me a story about telling his managing director that he was struggling in his current role and that it wasn’t working out. The managing director had just met with a new client who happened to love my friend, and as a result, wanted to do more business with their firm. Rather than listening to my friend’s struggles regarding the role, his managing director praised him told him that this engagement could become a good account for him.
Whose interest did this managing director have in mind? Do you think he actually heard what my friend was saying?
In his book, The Lost Art of Listening, Michael P. Nichols states, “When people respond to us in terms of their own preferences rather than turning to ours, it feels like they don’t really know us, don’t really get who we are, and aren’t really listening.”
It goes without saying that most of us aren’t exceptional listeners. Frequent misunderstandings aren’t just the subject of marital strife, but also the cause of costly errors from boardrooms to call centres across the world.
Why is listening so difficult?
The answer isn’t as nefarious as some might suggest. The problem stems from the fact that our brains think much faster than we talk. The average American speaks at 125 words per minute. At this pace, we’re effectively able to listen and have room to think about other things in the spare time. Issues with listening arise because most of us haven’t been taught what to do with that spare time.
Some of us commonly use this time for “multitasking” such as cleaning a room or typing an e-mail. Other times, the listener may be rehearsing their response while the other person is talking. Frequently, the listener gets an idea and pipes in to change the subject.
Michael P. Nichols writes, “To listen well, it’s necessary to let go of what’s on your mind long enough to hear what’s on the other person’s.”
Here are some tips for substantially improving your listening skills:
- Listen to what others have to say first. Listen to what they are saying and give them a fair chance. Refrain from thinking of a counterpoint.
- If a team member or colleague appears distant, ask them what’s going on and show them that you’re actually willing to listen. Listen without disagreeing.
- Put your emotions aside. Becoming emotional will distort the speaker’s real message in your mind.
Listening is a critical skill for everyone, not just for leaders. Effective listening can reduce anxiety and loneliness experienced by the speaker. When we listen well, we build deeper relationships by allowing the speaker to feel known and understood.
Do you want to improve your relationships and radically change your life? Grab a copy of The Lost Art of Listening.