The power of listening

If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” Mark Twain.

Quite simply, listening, is twice as importance as talking. However, we receive virtually no training in good listening. Many of us believe we are listening but in reality we are just waiting for our turn to respond. Really “hearing” is not a passive activity. How many times have you responded to a speaker with “yes but”. I know I have. This common response, undermines everything the speaker has just said. It can cause people to clam up and not be open in their discussions with you. Professionally, if employees feel too uncomfortable to ask for clarification on delegated tasks, it will kill productivity. Socially, you can isolate yourself from people as you will never reach that deeper level of understanding. Something that happens when two people really open up to each other and share stories. “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force” writes Brenda Ueland in her essay On The Fine Art of Listening. The people who “really listen to us are the ones we move toward, and want to sit in their radius as though it did us good.”.

So, instead of responding with “yes, but”, try and replace it with a follow up question. Let people finish what they are saying and don’t interrupt if that is your inclination. Genuinely, listen to the speaker. These simple skills can go a long way in building strong rapports with those around you. We shouldn’t just be mindful of our verbal responses. Whilst exact percentages are difficult to achieve, research suggests, above 90% of what we communicate is non-verbal. This means we are also communicating with our eye contact, physical movements and body posture. Body language that expresses you are not engaged with the speaker is fidgeting, lack of eye contact, positioning your body away and tightly crossing your arms and legs. By simply keeping good eye contact and inclining your posture towards the speaker you can invite and encourage expression. When people believe they are truly being listened to solutions and understandings, that were previously unforeseeable, can be found.

Listening is a powerful tool. Not only can we use it to connect with those around us, but we can educate ourselves. We learn, from each others life experiences, knowledge that cannot be read or taught. From the wise words of Dalai Lama “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know; but when you listen you may learn something new”.

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