The Art of Listening: Life Skills for the Business World

March 26, 2018

Communication is at the heart of every business and every relationship, and an important component of being a good communicator is knowing how to listen. While most experts agree that good listening is the key to developing fresh insights and ideas that fuel success, developing good listening skills takes some effort. We’re talking about the kind of listening that helps us examine and challenge the information we hear to improve its quality and quantity and thereby improve our decision-making.

But how can you become a good listener? While some may disagree, in my opinion, there are only three simple behaviors needed to master the Art of Listening.  Make these a habit, and you’ll reap the rewards of more productive conversations and relationships.

 

  1. Be Respectful

Truly good listeners understand that they have a better chance of success if they seek out information from others and let those people know that their input is valuable. By showing respect for someone else’s ideas, you’ve encouraged them to reciprocate. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to agree with their ideas, but being respectful means agreeing to disagree – appreciating that everyone has a unique perspective to bring to the table and that every opinion has value. The building of that trust will help ensure that they will continue to share their ideas, which nurtures growth and helps increase the probability of success. A respectful listener also doesn’t interrupt or jump in with answers or lecture about what was done wrong. Yes, it is important to ask questions, but you should ask them in a way that will promote, as opposed to hinder, idea-generating and the open flow of communication. Questions can still (and should) be tough or pointed, as long as they are respectful. Brainstorming sessions become much more productive when every participant feels comfortable knowing that their ideas and opinions will be heard and not judged, which helps ultimately helps uncover better solutions or plans of action.

 

  1. Talk Less than you Listen

This is usually the hardest for all of us. Try to follow the 80/20 rule: let the other person speak 80 percent of the time and try only to speak 20 percent of the time (easier than it sounds, believe me.) When you do speak, try to use your time to ask questions rather than trying always to make “your” point.  Politely interrupting with a question from time to time is OK if it helps move the conversation along or redirect it. However, use this tool carefully and respectfully, so you do not inhibit the productive sharing of information that will ultimately better inform your decisions. You will find that you learn much more by listening than by talking; about others and yourself. Also, don’t feel compelled to jump in and talk when the conversation lags. Most people will rush in to fill a void, and if you allow someone else to take the lead, you may likely hear information that may not have been shared otherwise.

 

  1. Challenge Assumptions

We all know the popular saying, “Why fix something if it isn’t broken?” While that may sometimes be true, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a better or even equally good, way to do something. You have to be willing to challenge long-held and accepted assumptions to get what you need to know from your conversations and make good decisions.  Conversely, you also have to be willing to listen when others are challenging your ideas. We all tend to hold onto our ideas like a favorite pair of jeans. When those jeans become too tight (or too loose) or have gone out of style, it’s time to retire them to make room for a new and fresh pair. The same applies to ideas. Yes, change is hard and encouraging someone to do something different can add an unknown risk to a venture. However, if you are willing to listen to other ideas and challenge others to listen to yours, you will realize greater opportunities to discover something better.

The reality is, some people are naturally are going to be better listeners than others.  However, if you sincerely and honestly evaluate your listening skills to understand your strengths and weaknesses and incorporate these simple listening strategies, we can all become better listeners and therefore better decision-makers.


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