Susan Johnston Taylor
“Businesspeople need to listen at least as much as they need to talk,” Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler, famously said. “Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.”
We’d all like to fancy ourselves good listeners, but there’s a huge difference between nodding as you wait for your turn to talk (guilty) and actually being present and mindful of what others are saying. Active listening skills can benefit not only your personal relationships but also professional ones. “Those employees that have effective listening skills are the ones that other employees tell things to,” says Leslie Shore, listening expert and author of “Listen to Succeed.” “As a result, you are a person that understands whether there are rumors going around and what the trend might be.” Being in the know like that improves your potential to get promoted because it means you can funnel information upwards, Shore explains. Plus, it shows your value to the fabric of the organization and ensures that you’re learning, she adds. “Those who want to spend 90 percent of their time on the job speaking aren’t doing any learning,” Shore says. “You can only learn when you listen. That’s how you expand your knowledge.”
Listening skills also show that you’re not conflict-oriented. Shore says great listeners are less conflict-prone because “they are responding to the information and not attacking the person who’s giving the information.” For instance, according to Shore, a not-so-great listener might say to a colleague, “I don’t know why you chose that point-of-view to start off your PowerPoint,” which can feel accusatory. A better listener might say, “I thought that was an interesting way that you started out your PowerPoint. Can you tell me what your reasoning was?” The latter approach allows you to understand why they made that decision so you can discuss it and find a better solution together. The former response might cause the coworker to shut down or feel defensive. So, how do you know if you’re not listening as closely as you could be? According to Shore, when you’re not actively listening “there is some kind of dissonance in your head that is resulting from knowing that there are words coming towards you and you aren’t listening in what I call a pure manner. There’s mind chatter going on.”
Learning to refocus and tune out that inner chatter is one of the reasons many meditate. Shore offered a few other strategies to help boost listening skills. “In that moment, you can just say inside your head ‘I’m taking my ego out of the way and I am listening 100 percent to that other person because I know listening is about them, not about me,’” she says. When someone says something we want to respond to, we tend to blurt out a response or fixate on the thing we want to respond to rather than continuing to listen to what the other person is saying. For the past 15 years, Shore has kept little spiral notebooks in her office, car, purse and wherever she is so that she can jot down notes as she listens. “I very quickly write down the keywords that made me want to respond,” she says. “I write those down and get back to listening so that I’m able to respond when they are finished talking but I’ve listened all the way through to the end.” That way you can continue listening without worrying that you’ll forget what you want to say or what you want to respond to. And by the time the person is finished talking, you may decide that one area has a greater need for a response, so you can focus on the highlights instead of engaging in a painstaking takedown of each individual point. That, of course, makes you much easier to work with.