Listening is not the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they discuss communication skills. Everyone is focused on their power words, on how to be a great business speaker and how to lure potential customers with slogans and adverts. We tend to think that listening just happens and is an effortless action, just like pretty much anything connected with our senses. After all, there are various speaker champion groups and advisory bodies but are there any Business Listening Champions organisations or Ear Master workshops?
Without listening, the whole process of communication is pointless. If no one listens, what’s the point in talking? We can talk to ourselves or create our personal Wilson, but that’s not the point. A great speaker has to be a great listener, there is no other way. The first point of any communication training would be: know your audience. This means: do not bore them to death with your words or presentations, know what they would be excited to LISTEN to. If you know what you like to listen to, there is a good chance this would be also interesting to others. A stunning example of how listening can improve performance was provided by Ernesto Sirolli in a charming talk on why we should shut up and listen. You can find it here.
So here we are in a world with a deficit of listeners, while there are 8 billion people around. Is there a chance we can improve? Of course. Listening is a skill and, as any other, it can be improved with practice. As much as active listening was laughed at, these are exactly the skills that we need to look at. With no further ado: it’s now time to put our ears to the ground and find out how we can all improve this very special of superheroic competences.
What we would usually expect from a listener is to keep quiet. However, a good listener is never passive. The most important part of any conversation is to be able to ask engaging questions, bounce the ideas around a little bit rather than just passively absorb them. Apart from open body posture and eye contact, a good listener is paying attention to what is being said by stepping into the speaker’s shoes. Putting up a defensive shield and perceiving everything as a personal attack will never develop the skill. Worse than that, it will immediately frustrate whoever is involved.
So far so good, we are focused on the speaker. What next? Distractions are switched off, including our stream of consciousness reminding us about our busy schedule. We do not judge our interlocutor and allow ourselves to believe that every view point is important and brings out another life’s facet. Even if we have to bite our tongue now and then. What more can we do? Show that we listen. We paraphrase what we have heard to make sure we understand what exactly the speaker means. A random “mhm” will not make any harm; nor will a non-judgemental question. Last but not least, we will observe our speaker to read their body language, their emotions and their attitude.
A good conversation should end with a mutual feeling. What feeling would that be? Satisfaction? Joy? Trust? Completion? Take your pick. If both you and your partner have had the possibility to exchange ideas in a productive way rather than jump to each other throats to win an argument, you will want more. Of listening. And of speaking.
To write this article I have used information gathered from the following resources: