Listening is a hugely underrated skill. It really isn’t given enough emphasis the business, particularly in the startup world – perhaps because, as entrepreneurs, we’re always trying to convince others of our position and the benefits of our product or service?
Nevertheless the benefits of being a good listener are manifold, not the least of them being:
Mutual respect – when you listen to others, they are more likely to listen to you,
Better conflict resolution – listening helps you to understand the other person’s position so you can better resolve the issue at hand, and;
Career success – good listeners are more likely to succeed in the workplace as they are generally better learners and better at dealing with difficult people.
That being said, it is one thing to know why listening well is important and quite another to actually do it. So here are some handy tips.
1. Hearing is not the same as listening.
Not being heard is a common complaint – we all like our say and we all want to be listened to, but hearing and listening are not the same.
There is little doubt that the frustration we feel when we are not heard or listened to is a key barrier to good communication. Yet we were given free gratis the basic pieces of equipment needed to be a good listener, i.e. two ears and one mouth.
Notice the balance there? The ears come out top every time when it comes listening well, while the mouth takes the back seat.
2. Good listening skills are a top business asset.
Entrepreneur Richard Branson once said that listening was the key skill that enabled him to get Virgin to where it is today. In fact listening is so important that many top employers provide training in how to listen effectively.
We don’t necessarily have to shell out a ton of money to learn how to be a good listener because we all have the ability, but we do need to ensure that we focus our talents. This means starting with the most important thing to remember, which is listening is not the same as hearing.
As human beings who regularly interact on both a social and professional level, we can be very selective about what we hear. We get very used to filtering out certain subjects and topics and focusing on the things that we feel are important to us. This is not what being a good listener is about.
Here comes the science…
When we hear we’re using our ability to perceive sound and we do this by detecting vibrations through our ears, usually vibrations on the ear drum that are then transmitted to the brain via a delicate hearing mechanism leading to the auditory nerve.
When we listen however, we are taking in a lot more information than just the sound of the person’s voice.
Listening is the ability to perceive what is behind the messages that we’ve been given. Listening means that we are taking a whole range of other signals that the person who is communicating to us is passing on, such as their body language, the tone and pitch of their voice, and the speed at which they are speaking.
Clued up yet?
All of the above signals give us clues as to the message that is being passed over to us. They also show how the person is feeling at that point in time, and if you choose to ignore these clues then you are not listening to the message.
Considering we spend over three quarters of our lives listening and hearing, we really need to make sure we get it right, so let’s look at what the principles of a good listener means.
1. Ensure that the speaker feels at ease.
First of all, you need to put the speaker at ease, so they feel confident that you are going to listen to them. Help them to feel free to speak with you, which means you may have to modify your body language.
Maintain a comfortable stance and keep good eye contact (but without staring them down). If you are on the telephone you will have to demonstrate this by letting them know you are listening to them and let them speak.
2. Encourage them to speak.
Show that you’re listening and keep confirming this with the speaker, including your understanding. This means making listening noises such as “I see” and “Okay”, and when face to face, using appropriate gestures such as nodding your head or other body language to encourage them to continue speaking.
3. Make time to listen.
Give yourself time to listen to the speaker, get ready and make sure there are no other distractions. If it is on the telephone, wearing headphones always helps because it will cut out the sound of other people and the ambient noise around you.
Focus on the person that is speaking and don’t let your mind wander, tempting though it is to think about where you’re going tonight and who you’re going to be meeting, because this is not the time to be doing that.
4. Restrict your comments until they have finished.
Don’t talk; this is the time for others to communicate and for you to listen. It was Mark Twain who quite rightly pointed out that if we were supposed to talk more than we listened, we would have two tongues and one ear. This means restraining yourself from interrupting the person who is speaking.
Give them time, if they stop speaking wait to see if they’ve got something else they want to talk about. Sometimes a long pause doesn’t mean that they have stopped, which can be more difficult to judge over the telephone than face-to-face. With someone in front of you, you can see if they are thinking about what else they want to say. Remember that you should never finish a sentence for them.
5. Receive and digest the information.
Look out for keywords or ideas when you’re listening to somebody; you are trying to piece together a lot of information and combine it into a holistic package.
During their speaking there will be some key points that come across. There could be some really top ideas or insights that you need to pull together in order to help the person and move the conversation forward, and/or to assist them with a particular problem or concern that they’ve got.
Remember that non-verbal communication is just as important as the verbal sounds so take note of hand gestures, tone and pitch as you can pick up a lot from these. For example, often when people are nervous, they run their words together very quickly or may stammer.
Listening is a skill, and like all skills, one that we need to cultivate and practice in order to get better at. A good listener will be able to pull all the data that we’ve talked about together into a neat package and use it to facilitate the next move.
And as many have discovered, in the world of business and entrepreneurship, the ability to do that is key to success.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Paul Rubinstein is a qualified jeweller and the owner of Engage Jewellery. With 15 years of experience in jewellery sales, manufacturing, diamond grading and jewellery design, he is passionate about making tomorrow’s heirlooms today. With Engage Jewellery, he embraces a bespoke philosophy that seeks to create what his customers want, rather than try and sell them what he has. This means listening to his customers and hearing their requirements in order to deliver rings and jewellery that are made to order, using only the finest materials of course! Connect with @EngageJewellery on Twitter.
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