Knowing how to listen (properly) is an important ingredient in a successful working relationship. Many of our courses teach listening techniques and, it’s a subtle change, but we’re noticing participants are requiring more assistance in developing those skills.
Why does listening matter?
Of LinkedIn’s 2020 list of in-demand interpersonal skills (mined from its 600m+ network of professionals) creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and emotional intelligence – all skills that require good listening abilities.
Stephen Covey’s states in Habit 5 of his seminal successful habits series: “If I were to summarise in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
In a her book published in 2020, You’re Not Listening, New York Times interviewer Kate Murphy demonstrates that our fraying listening skills are not just anecdotally but measurably increasing widespread loneliness and depression.
If communication is the cornerstone of a workplace, then helping employees retrieve this overlooked skill could be a key way to improving employee engagement and wellbeing.
Learning to listen
We can all learn to be better listeners. Here are some things you can do to improve your listening – like any skill it becomes stronger the more you practice:
- Are you listening or waiting to speak? Learn to WAIT. This is a mnemonic for Why Am I Talking? Challenge yourself as to why you are talking. Do you need to say anything at all?
- Next time you’re tempted to use your headphones to exercise or do some domestic tasks – don’t use them – notice the difference in how other people behave towards you compared to when you have them on.
- We often listen more attentively to people we meet for the first time and tune out from those we know well. So practise really listening to someone you know well and notice what you discover.
- Check out Julian Treasures techniques including the acronym RASA. In Treasure’s TED Talk, he explains how good listeners often use a simple process: they actively listen, appreciate what they’re hearing, summarise what they’ve heard, and then ask questions.
- Recognise your good listening skills. As Kate Murphy says in her book: ‘Give yourself a pat on the back if you ever find yourself pausing and saying in response (honestly): “I don’t know what to say” or: “I’d like to think about that.” Congratulations: you were actually really listening for once’.
5 ways to listen better
In his TED Talk, 5 ways to listen better, Julian Treasure says people withdraw from the world because of its noisiness – both visual and aural: “Many people take refuge in headphones, but they turn big, public spaces, shared soundscapes, into millions of tiny, little personal sound bubbles. In this scenario, nobody’s listening to anybody.”
Listening is not a means to an end, a ruse to get yourself heard. Neither is it a passive skill but a very active one, requiring your full focus. Like most things, the more you practise, the more you’ll understand others and learn more. In turn, others will be more likely to listen to you.