Do you know that quote by Stephen R. Covey?
"Most people don't listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."
It's so true.
In this crazy, noisy world where everyone's trying to get their voice heard, we often forget how important it is to... listen.
I mean, think about it. When was the last time you took a class on listening? Spoiler Alert: I did, but it took me years to realize that I needed to level up my game.
Human skills, or soft skills, are super necessary, but they're hard to learn when we're so used to focusing on formulas and flashcards.
I was so focused on improving public speaking for years that I overlooked the importance of active listening. But active listening – focusing, understanding, responding, and remembering what's being said – is one of the most important skills you can develop personally and professionally.
Why Active Listening Matters
Remember the old saying, "You have two ears and one mouth?"
It's a gentle reminder that we should listen twice as much as we speak. And the real secret to success isn't about pushing new ideas forward; it's about listening and understanding why things are the way they are. From there, new solutions become clear. It's all about being curious.
The way we listen shapes the world we create. We know our actions shape the world, but how we listen has an even more profound impact.
The Purpose of Active Listening
- Awareness: You know when you're actively listening.
- Diversity: Listening in different ways gives you further insights.
- Influence: How people listen to us changes how we behave around them. Think about it, would you tell a story differently to your mom versus your boss?
- Obstacle Identification: Figure out what's stopping you from listening.
So, why is listening so difficult?
I learned that listening is tricky because we can process around 450 words per minute, but people only speak about 125 - 175 words per minute. So our attention tends to wander.
Other reasons might be:
- Distractions: We live in a world full of distractions. From our smartphones buzzing with notifications to background noise, it's easy to get sidetracked when we should be listening.
- Preoccupation: with our thoughts: Often, while someone else is speaking, we're already formulating our response or thinking about something else entirely. This internal chatter can prevent us from fully focusing on what the other person is saying.
- Impatience: Sometimes, especially if the speaker is slow or the topic is complex, we might get impatient and lose focus.
- Emotional Bias: If the topic is emotionally charged or has preconceived solid notions, we might react emotionally rather than objectively listening. This can lead to selective listening, where we only pay attention to parts of the conversation that align with our views.
How did I start to become a better listener?
1. Start Listening to Yourself
The first step in learning to listen actively is to start with yourself.
Listening to yourself means being aware of your thoughts and feelings. It's about understanding your biases, preconceptions, and emotional reactions. This self-awareness is crucial because it helps you to be more open and receptive when listening to others. In addition, it allows you to put your thoughts and feelings aside, creating space to fully absorb what the other person is saying.
Ask yourself questions like:
- How good am I at listening to people?
- Do I talk more or listen more when with friends or family?
- Who do you know is a good listener, and why?
2. Start Active Listening to Others
Active listening to others is more than just hearing their words. It's about understanding the complete message being communicated. To actively listen, you have to give the speaker your full attention. Avoid distractions, maintain eye contact, and respond appropriately to show engagement. Ask clarifying questions if you don't understand something, and paraphrase their points to ensure you've got their message. Remember, active listening is about understanding, not just waiting for your turn to speak.
I, by the way did a course on active listening. In the Arc of Accomplishment connecting challenge I learned for example the "eye gazing" exercise on Zoom, which I think is an exciting way of starting a conversation. Pin one person in the Zoom gallery and look into their eyes for a few minutes without reacting before you start your meeting. The first time it will be awkward, but if you do it more often, it removes barriers and you can listen way more deeper.
Try it yourself in your next team meeting.
3 Listen to the Data
I use, for example, a platform called Shield Analytics that helps me analyze my content performance. By 'listening' to this data, I can understand which topics resonate with my audience, the best time to post, and the type of content that drives engagement.
Another way of becoming a better listener is integrating otter.ai for every meeting I host on Zoom. In the past, I usually took notes while I was listening. Now I record every session, focusing 100% on my conversations. After, with the help of AI, I turn my listening into actionable content - either a case study, to-do list, etc. In addition, it shows me visually my part of speaking versus listening, always trying to find a balance.
🧰 Your turn: Like any skill, active listening requires practice. It's not something you can master overnight. Start small by focusing on one conversation each day where you practice active listening. Gradually, you'll find it becomes second nature. It's about continuous learning and improvement. So, keep practicing, stay patient, and you'll soon reap the benefits of this powerful skill.