The Art and Skill of Effective Listening

By Scott Jeffrey

Listening is a skill. Over time, skilled listeners have the edge in business and have an easier time in personal relationships.

Effective listening leads to understanding. Understanding deepens your connections with others, and builds trust and respect. Those who don’t listen well remain ignorant to their shortcomings and miss opportunities.

Active listening is difficult; it requires us to focus on the needs and thoughts of others instead of ourselves. Active listening also requires seeing and feeling, not just hearing. It’s important to make solid eye contact while the other person is talking. It’s helpful to try to feel what the other person is saying.

To listen more effectively:

  • Suspend judgment while someone is talking. Seek to understand, not judge.
  • Avoid getting defensive. The ego often feels attacked without cause. If you’re focused on being defensive, you’re not listening well.
  • Send nonverbal cues that you’re paying attention. Nod your head. Lean in. Make facial expressions. Maintain eye contact.
  • Watch the talker intently. Notice nonverbal cues like facial expressions, gestures and other movements.
  • Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to appear unknowledgeable. Your outcome is to understand, not to guard your image.
  • Stay present. Don’t jump ahead. Avoid thinking about what you’re going to say while the other person is still talking.
  • Listen to what’s not said. Hone in on the emotional state of those talking. Tune into the overall context of the dialogue. Seek deeper understanding.

Listening is also an art. Effective listening takes empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share feelings with another. Although our business personas tend to shy aware from feelings and emotions, the fact is that we have them. Emotions often trump logic in decision making IF and WHEN our feelings are not addressed in advance.

If you lack empathy, you must at least cultivate compassion and realize that a real human being is talking to you. Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” If you did nothing else but kept this thought in mind, you’ll notice a shift in your perspective and your ability to connect and understand others.

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