The lost art of listening

Listening is one of the key areas of leadership I discussed in last week’s blog about 3 Simple Ways to Elevate Your Leadership. I had some interesting reactions to this so wanted to dive a bit further into the notion of truly LISTENING and its ability to make your leadership soar.

I’m sure there has been a time in your life when you’ve had a conversation with someone and knew for sure that he or she wasn’t really listening, right?  And it’s pretty easy to tell when it’s happening too….usually through lack of eye contact, facial expressions, or the loathed phrase “What did you just say?”  Unfortunately, unless you’re an angel, chances are that the shoe has also been on the other foot and you have been guilty of the same behaviour (guilty as charged – particularly with children who take forever to get to the point!!!)  People know when we’re distracted and not actually ‘present’.

So I’d like to discuss the lost art of listening.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator.  Communication is vital in accomplishing tasks, passing on important details, acquiring information, developing a shared vision, reaching decisions through consensus, building relationships, and moving people to embrace change. However, for many people communication is viewed through a lens that focuses on why and how information is delivered. In truth, the most effective communicators are those people who listen intently.

By improving our listening skills, we become better communicators while simultaneously building better relationships with peers, prospects and partners.

Here are some great tips on how to become a better listener:

Develop the desire to listen. You must accept the fact that listening to others is your strongest weapon. Given the opportunity, the other person will tell you everything you need to know. If this doesn’t create desire, I don’t know what will.

  1. Always let the other person do most of the talking. This is a simple matter of mathematics. I suggest a 70/30 rule. You listen 70% of the time and you talk 30% of the time.
  2. Don’t interrupt.  There is always the temptation to interrupt so you can tell the other person something you think is vitally important. It isn’t, so don’t. When you are about to speak, ask yourself if it is really necessary.
  3. Learn active listening.  It’s not enough that you’re listening to someone – you want to be sure that they know you’re listening. Active listening is the art of communicating to the other person that you’re hearing their every word (think facial expressions and body language).
  4. Ask for clarification if needed.  This will clear up any misunderstanding you have.
  5. Get used to ‘listening’ for nonverbal messages – body language.  The other person may be communicating with you via body language. You need to decode the message.
  6. Ask a question…then shut up.  This is a foolproof way to listen. Think of yourself as an interviewer – Leigh Sales, Jana Wendt, Oprah Winfrey, Waleed Aly. They listen and question – so should you.

The key is to really work hard to let other people know that you are actually listening.  The use of eye contact and facial expressions followed up by either additional questions or a synopsis of what was heard conveys to others that you are truly present. If the conversation is happening over the phone or through a digital medium, consider following up with a short summary as to what you heard.

This final tip is probably the most important.  The best way to illustrate that you have really listened is to TAKE ACTION in some way so that the other person knows that they were actually heard.

The action could be moving an idea forward or explaining your decision to go in another direction.  There are always times when people just want to vent and be listened to. In these cases, the most important thing you can do is show you care.

In the digital age, we are all trying so hard to be heard, but are we making the time to listen and reflect?  Social media has ushered in a new era of communication and collaboration.  Traditional hurdles such as time, distance, and money have been overcome as more and more tools are available that allow people to share resources, ideas, opinions, and feedback.  For those of us who routinely leverage social media for these purposes, we are all parts of a vibrant, connected, global community committed to improving professional practice as well as our own lives.  Being able to share information and ideas like never before is exhilarating. BUT, are we taking the time to really listen to what others are sharing?

The art of listening can and MUST be extended to the social media space.

It is not a one-way street. Consider upping your engagement on others’ blogs and updates, and truly engaging in conversations. Reaching out like this can mean the world to someone, and may open an unexpected door for you too.  It shows that you care and are actually listening in the digital space. If someone engages you in this space, with a question or comment, take the time to reply back.

As Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Make improved listening a habit to move more ideas forward and build positive relationships in the process.

Are you honestly listening?

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