The Power of Listening

September 5th, 2017

How well do you listen? It’s a skill many of us attempt but few master. We live in a world where communication is how we get things done, and as technology and the workforce change, our communication challenges become greater. When it isn’t effective, the consequences include stress, misunderstandings, conflict and often confusion — all resulting in time and energy wasted on unproductive things.

I wanted to share my tips for how to improve your communication and listening.

  1. Listening is about intention. That requires the self-awareness to make a choice about whether you are in the right frame of mind to listen, have the time to commit to the conversation, and are aware of your own perceptions that impact your interpretation of what you hear. If you’re not able to be fully present, reschedule the conversation, rather than sit through it distracted, disengaged or multi-tasking.
  2. Be unattached to the outcome. When you are focused on what you want, it interferes with hearing what the other person is saying and understanding their perspective. Real listening requires you to let go of the outcome and focus not only on what someone else is saying but also on understanding his or her point of view. In that space, we remain quiet as we hear the other person’s words, rather than listening to competing thoughts running through our own minds.
  3. Recognize the power of a different perspective. Imagine how different your world would be if no one challenged a viewpoint or thought differently? Even if you don’t agree, you can build trust and improve your relationships by listening and understanding the other person’s perspective.
  4. Listen for understanding. Good listening encompasses far more than just being quiet while someone else talks. It means that you embrace what they’re saying. What is their body language telling me? What’s important about what they’re saying? What aren’t they saying? This requires you to be quiet so you can connect with the other person, even though you may have to force yourself to maintain your silence as you fight the impulse to speak.
  5. Let go of the need to be right. The need to be right is a no-win situation — the only winner is our ego. When you try to make your point of view the right one, the other party becomes wrong. That combination creates defensiveness. If you assume no one is right and no one is wrong, it creates a foundation for discussion and eventually decision.
  6. Summarize back to the listener. It’s not enough to simply be quiet as someone else talks; instead, the other party needs to know that you understand what they said. Summing up what you heard the listener say in your own words helps them feel heard. It also makes sure you understand, and it lets you clarify further where necessary.
  7. WAIT. My magic question: Why Am I Talking? If I am supposed to be listening, I shouldn’t be talking (or formulating in my head what I will say next). My job is to watch, wait and listen…..

In all honesty, I’m still working on my own listening skills. While I’m not sure I’ll ever fully master the art of listening, I continue to improve every time I pay attention to what I’m doing.

My challenge for you is to assess your own listening skills.  On a scale of 1-10 (with 1 as low and 10 as high), how would you rate yourself at listening?

How different would that listening score be if you asked your employees to rate you? Try it! How about your colleagues and peers? Your customers?

Imagine how different your world would be if you mastered the skill of listening — or even just improved it. It all starts with you………..

Donna Flynn has spent most of her career in the financial services industry, both as an executive coach, and also in leadership and management positions. She is the President of SkillsMastery Group, Inc., an executive coaching and management consulting firm in Chicago. SkillsMastery Group has partnered with BankTalentHQ to provide career, management and leadership coaching to its members. For more information, please contact