LISTENING = RESPECT. (Because I want to encourage listening, I write these words instead of using PowerPoint slides. More on this in another post.) Often I’m allotted only 15 minutes to speak on listening, a topic that requires a lifetime of patience and practice. Unfortunately too little time is spent on this critical interpersonal skill.
Listening is overlooked or marginalized for numerous reasons, including a tendency — for US residents, at least — to over-estimate our ability, or to take it for granted. Don’t we all need to learn this skill in order to navigate school, relationships, jobs and life? Well, yes… but most of us don’t learn it very well.
It’s easy to conclude good listeners are overlooked and unrewarded, especially at work: They don’t seem to get as many promotions, nor are they seen as leaders in environments where “management communication skills” are associated with verbal/speaking ability. Yet, listening can be the single most important interpersonal communication skill when your job requires dealing with others (which is the case for most of us).
Leaders who take the time and have the courage to listen are more likely to earn respect, admiration, and loyalty. People want to innovate, collaborate and cooperate with great listeners because they feel heard as important contributors. This seems obvious, yet I’ve observed many executives — who believe they are good listeners — having no idea how much they could improve, and how much their organizations would benefit as a result.
“Respect” is a good place to start when I invite people to consider the importance of listening. It’s true that articulate, confident speakers are needed in organizations. Leadership requires being able to deliver strong, persuasive messages. Nevertheless, the leaders who earn the most respect also value and practice effective listening skills.
On a personal note, the people I like the most are attentive and demonstrate they have heard and tried to understand my point of view, even if they don’t agree with me. This is true for most of us. When I ask seminar participants to name the most admired, well-liked, influential, helpful and positive people they have known the list invariably includes those who showed their respect and caring through listening.
It’s natural to appreciate someone’s undivided attention. It makes us feel good! Sadly, we expect or demand this attention far more often than we give it. This is especially true as we experience information overload. Devices and distractions proliferate. I’m guilty as anyone. At times I’ve been engaged with my iPhone when I need to remember the person in front of me is more important. So how do we begin to practice better listening skills when it seems more difficult than ever? It begins with a healthy respect for the value of listening.