Listening Really Matters

Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

We’ve all heard that most Americans fear public speaking more than they fear death but, until I read the Churchill quote, I’d never thought that it takes courage to listen. I think he’s definitely right. Most of us would rather talk than listen—even when we have nothing really important to say. Maybe it’s a little dramatic to say it takes courage to listen but it certainly is an extremely important communication skill and one that is vital to success in business or in life.

In a business setting, having good listening skills are critical to success and developing those skills takes effort and, dare I say it—courage. So many leaders don’t stop to listen to the people around them. They are too busy believing they know all the answers to think they might learn something if they sit down and listen.

Good listening is an active process—it’s not just being quiet until the other person stops talking so you can say what you think. Good listeners interact with the speaker to ask questions. Good listeners watch for verbal cues while processing the words they’re hearing. Good listeners listen for what’s not being said—some call this “listening for the music and not just the words.”

Good listeners must exercise a good deal of restraint and not jump to conclusions based on a few early words from the speaker. If you haven’t listened carefully to what the speaker is saying, your initial judgment can be the cause of you dismissing the rest of what’s being said and that can be fatal!

Ralph Nichols of The University of Minnesota says as reported in Michael Roberto’s book Know What you what you don’t Know—How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before they Happen-- that he encourages his students to listen more effectively by having a statement at the top of each white board that says, “Withhold evaluation until comprehension is complete—hear the speaker out. It is important that we understand the speaker’s point of view before we accept or reject it.”

There are many things to be aware of that get in the way as we listen or even try to listen:
· Setting
· Distractions
· Timing
· Beliefs
· Perceptions
· Emotions
· Cultural differences
· Relationships
· Word usage
· Assumptions

In our most recent book, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook, we devoted an entire chapter to the importance of good listening skills in managing workplace conflict. We talk about how to use active listening, gestures, eye contact, and reflective listening skills to improve the listening experience.

So, be courageous and work to be a better listener and see how this improves your working and personal relationships!


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