Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Listening is a Life-Changer

Listening is the most under-appreciated communication skill.  The research shows that listening is the single most important communication skill in professional, academic, and personal life. In fact, many marriage counselors report that the number one source of dissatisfaction in relationships is not money, the kids, or work. It’s listening. As in “my partner just doesn't listen to me”.

The good news is that listening is a skill that can be learned. It will take effort, and perhaps the cost of a book or time spent with a communications expert, but it is time, effort, and money well spent, as the results can transform our careers, our relationships, and our lives.

One of the problems is that for most people hearing equals listening. However, hearing is just one small part of the listening process. Hearing is a passive process. You don’t have to do anything to hear someone. Listening, on the other hand is an active and sometimes difficult behavior. We need to work at it. As a college professor, for instance, I know that all my students can hear me. How many are listening—really listening—is another story. And the degree to which they are actively listening will be reflected in their performance on tests and other assignments. Those who are not listening effectively literally do not “get it”. Though they are physically present, they are somewhere else psychologically.

Why is listening so difficult though? There are dozens of reasons, including multiple kinds of distractions (environmental, psychological, and physical), topics of conversation we have no interest in, boring people, thick accents, unpleasant voices, and points of view we strongly disagree with to name just a few. I would add one other thing to our list…a lack of training.

As adults we survived years of schooling in every field under the sun, but have you ever been taught how to listen well? Most of us learned our listening skills by watching our parents, or whoever we grew up around. And if they were good listeners we have probably become good listeners by vicarious learning. But if our parents were poor listeners, we have probably become poor listeners too. It’s not a moral flaw, just the result of following poor role models.

For that reason many of us could use a lesson in listening. We need to learn what “listening” means, beyond just hearing, and we need to learn how to do it better. Limitations of time and space preclude me from doing that here today, but over the next few days I will share some specific tips on how to be a better listener.

And while learning specific tips for listening more effectively is great, ultimately you have to really want to be a better listener. The late Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says it best I think. “Listening is the sincere desire to understand another”. It is a desire. It comes from within. And for anyone who comes to understand the benefits of good listening, the desire should follow naturally.

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting services visit Semiosphere Consulting.