I enjoy podcasts, searching for and listening to unique and interesting topics, or hearing others’ perspectives and stories. Being a business owner, I tend to gravitate towards podcasts that focus on business and career development. I was listening to one recently, and the speaker was talking about communication skills. He made numerous points, including: be articulate, use proper grammar, have your message rehearsed and practiced, stay on topic, and don’t use profanity.
All good points, especially when giving a speech or making a presentation.
But this person was talking about communications skills, and never once did he mention the most important skill. Ask any great communicator what the most important skill is for successful communication, and they will tell you without pause, it’s the ability and willingness to listen.
It may seem strange to call listening a skill. If we can hear, then don’t we listen? Unfortunately, no. Very few people are excellent listeners.
True listening is work, it can be a difficult skill to learn, and takes practice. It’s about blocking out all other distractions while others speak, and it requires us to free our mind and concentrate on what is being said by others.
Listening is also interactive. It requires asking questions, then giving the other person the opportunity to respond. Oftentimes, it’s about asking for more information, pushing the other person to elaborate and describe in detail what they feel, believe or assume.
In many instances, while others are talking, people will focus on formulating what they want to say in response. I had a boss once, and when someone spoke to him, he was quiet and attentive. When that person would finish talking, this person would always take a few moments of quiet before responding, often making for an uncomfortable pause. What I later learned was that while the other person was talking, he was intently listening. Therefore, he was formulating his response only after others had talked, and not during. This small difference made him a great listener.
Through listening, we can learn, understand what others believe, feel, think, and more importantly, what they want and need. And when we know those things, we can best respond, and therefore best communicate.
Active Listening Quick Tips:
1. Be present and give the speaker your full attention
2. Fight the urge to think of your response
3. Try to picture what the speaker is saying
4. Don't interrupt or impose your opinion before they are done speaking
5. Ask questions only to ensure understanding
6. Practice, Practice, Practice