It may come as a surprise to many, but the most important element in communication is not talking, but listening. Listening, a near-magic skill that surprisingly few can master, is not the same as hearing. Hearing is a physical process involving your ears, and (as long as you don’t have any health problems) you don’t really have to do anything in particular to hear what others are saying. Listening, however, is the interpretation of messages you receive, and it goes well beyond registering sounds. It requires concentration and focus, not only to process the meaning of words, but also to capture the message carried by gestures, tones, volume, pauses and even silences. A good listener will also be able to grasp the message carried by what isn’t said. It’s a very active process and, in order to really make an impact, you have to be fully engaged.
Many people claim to be good listeners. However, most of us fail to listen with the intention of fully understanding, and instead do it simply to provide an answer or say what’s on our mind in a way that could sometimes be described as “almost anxiously”. Just think about it: when was the last time you had someone completely focused on listening to you, on not just your words, but on your emotions and your gestures? When did you have someone literally listening to the message carried by the words you didn’t say? To your silence? To the meaning between the lines? One of the biggest compliments you can give somebody is to really, deeply listen to them. Do it with intent, be consistent, and you’ll be considered a great conversationalist.
“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation” – Cicero
Professional conversations require very active listening skills in order to be successful. You definitely don’t want to upset your client or your boss because you were distracted while they were talking, or because you asked a question the answer to which was given a minute earlier. On the other hand, nodding, clarifying, or silently focusing all your attention on what they are talking about will make them trust you and keep them opening up. You end up as the winner, and often without saying much.
It’s important to keep in mind that, to properly apply this, you have to genuinely believe it. A simple exercise will help: for the next day or two, every time you begin a conversation with someone (a face to face conversation, not a virtual one), try to really concentrate and focus on the other person. Provide feedback that says “I am listening” and ask questions only to clarify what’s being said. For this exercise, don’t express an opinion on what’s been shared, and don’t be judgmental. Just listen. You’ll see how the other person gradually opens up and how easy it is to relate to the other person. It’ll be extremely satisfying. Just try it!
Not only will you get better information from those you work with, but they will get to trust you more because people rarely experience this kind of close attention. All it takes is for you to listen without judging. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to express your opinion or disagree with what’s being said. Just listen first, and listen fully.
Mastering the art of listening is also of great help when you’re leading a meeting or even just participating in one. If you can hold your horses and be the last to speak while carefully listening to what the others have to say, only asking questions to make sure you understand but not approving or disapproving of what is said, you’ll be judged as someone who really pays attention, and your opinion will carry a lot more weight.
Here’s another tip: have you been in smaller meetings with big bosses or important clients in which you feel out of place but still want to participate and don’t know what to say? Well, just listen (focus!) to what the other person or persons are expressing and elegantly repeat or rephrase their words. Add something like “how interesting” or “tell me more”, but be sure to really mean it. You’ll see. It works like magic.
And that’s not all. Have you ever noticed how companies claim to lose valuable people because one day—apparently out of the blue—they decide to leave? If your company’s hiring process, compensation package and career plans are satisfactory, one can safely say that these people are not leaving as a result of poor compensation. They mostly leave because they don’t feel valued or relevant by the company. In other words, they don’t feel listened to.
In closing, remember: to make other people feel valued and understood, to work more efficiently and earn the respect and trust of your peers, friends and family, you can start with one deceptively simple-sounding objective: listen.
“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.”- Rachel Naomi Remen
Published on Linked In on September 20, 2017