Are you good at listening?

2 August 2021

Are you good at listening?
Do you pride yourself on being a good listener? What do you think comprises being good at listening?  A Guardian article I read a few days back, Be interested, be curious, hear what’s not said’: how I learned to really listen to people’, caused me to pause and … well … think. Reading it, it occurred to me that, all too often we can fall into the trap of believing that listening equates to staying quiet and not interrupting when someone is talking. Well that helps of course. But what the art of listening is really about is taking on what someone tells you.

Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.

Dean Jackson
Graphic spelling out active listening  -  Are you good at listening?

How often, when in the midst of a so-called conversation, do we go through the motions of listening to the other person? Motions that disguise the fact that our brains are thinking about other things – such as what to cook for dinner? And further, that we’re often simply waiting for the opportunity to interject with an anecdote of our own. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of that at least sometimes. If I’m honest with myself, I know I have.

Indeed, the writer of the aforementioned article describes observing just such instances between her mother and her mother’s hairdresser. She describes information dropped like a ball and not followed up on because neither party was really listening to the other. If we don’t notice those things how can we expect to notice non-verbal clues – clues to something at utter odds to the words coming from someone’s mouth?

Are you good at listening? - Two men talking in an informal meeting

How to listen to others

This Business Insider article, how to really listen to others, goes into some detail on what you can do to perform good listening. I’ve summarized them below:

  1. Stop interrupting. This will be hard to do, but try not to finish the other person’s sentence.
  2. Listen for feelings. Listening is hard to do so most of us will listen as little as we can.
  3. Repeat what you heard back to the person. Paraphrase what you THINK they said back to them. That’s a great way to check that you’ve understood and to make the other party feel
  4. Acknowledge what the person said – in business situations such an action is of particular value.
  5. Look for nonverbal clues – pay close attention to any changes in body language or emotion after you’ve spoken.

Why bother to get better at listening?

Because it’s one of the most important skills you can have, that’s why. Being good, or otherwise, at listening will have a noticeable effect on how effective you are at work and on the calibre of your interpersonal relationships. Because, as this article from Mind Tools.com points out, we use listening to:

  • Get information
  • Understand
  • Enjoy things
  • Learn things

That’s a lot of listening isn’t it? So much that you’d think we’d be thinkers so excellent that we’d be on a par with Rodin’s famous sculpture. That or the supercomputer Deep Thought, a la Douglas Adams in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But no. Most of us are not. In fact, research suggests that we recall only 25-50 per cent of what we hear.

So if you talk to your boss or customers or partner for ten minutes they’ll pay attention to less than half of what you’ve said. And of course, the converse is true. It stands to reason that you hope the important parts of the information conveyed in your locutionary act is received in that 25-30 per cent. But it might not be.

So being good at listening can make you more productive. It can also improve your powers of persuasion, negotiation and influence. And … it’ll help you side-step unnecessary misunderstandings and relationship friction.

So being good at listening can make you more productive. It can also improve your powers of persuasion, negotiation and influence. And … it’ll help you side-step unnecessary misunderstandings and relationship friction.

And besides all that: ‘Listen. People start to heal the moment they feel heard.’ Cheryl Richardson


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