I enjoy searching for and listening to unique and interesting topics and hearing others’ perspectives and stories. Recently I came across podcasts about –”Life and Work as a Freelancer” and the story of how it took Herb Kelleher years to get his airline to take off and the challenges he faced. Being a business owner, I tend to gravitate towards podcasts that focus on business and career development, such as How I Built This and Sharpen. 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 great communicators what the most important skill is for successful exchange of ideas 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 aren’t we listening? 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.
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 people 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 who was always quiet and attentive when someone spoke to him. When that person would finish talking, the boss 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 better respond, and therefore communicate better.
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 he is finished speaking
5. Ask questions only to ensure understanding
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
Brian T. King is the founder and owner of multiple firms encompassing design, construction, real estate, and manufacturing, and currently president of the integrated Design-Build firm A M King. Brian shares his passion for mentoring young professionals, rising managers and entrepreneurs at speaking engagements around the country, on podcasts and via his blog.