Skilled listening is more than just respectful attentiveness. It includes observation of body language and nonverbal cues, the ability to clear one’s mind of any agenda, and a commitment to listen comprehensively until the other person has said everything that needed to be said.
Good listeners have distinct advantages. Why?
• They tend to make fewer mistakes, in part because they ask better questions. If you’re listening well, you’re able to detect contradictions, gaps, and incomplete thoughts. You pick up better information, even when it’s unspoken.
Let’s say a client’s briefing you on a new project: you’re listening closely and picking up on a series of contradictory, unfinished thoughts. Tactfully, you ask questions around those, and the client admits he hasn’t had time to fully process those; but, being in conference, you now do so together. The client comes away feeling you’ve been very helpful, that you’re great with collaborative thinking.
• They form more durable bonds within their relationships. Who doesn’t like to be listened to? Emotional reactivity usually increases as relationships progress, so very often we don’t receive the quality of listening we need from those closest to us. It can be a source of frustration and disappointment. On the other hand, skilled listeners tend to form stronger relationships because others in their lives know they can be counted on for this.
• They build credibility more easily, and are more empowered to impact or transform relationships. Human beings love to dish out advice, usually on the assumption (or presumption), “Hey, this worked for me, it should work for you!” — the problem being that unless you’ve earned your right to be listened to, your advice means very little. How do you earn your right to be heard? Others will more likely heed your advice if they feel you’ve taken the time to first listen thoroughly to what they have to say. (Think about this the next time you’re talking to your teen about how he should plan his future).