- Less than 2% of the world’s population has ever had any formal training in this skill.
- 64% of workplaces offer training in this skill because they find their employees are sufficiently lacking it.
- It has been identified as the top skill employers seek in entry level candidates and for promotability.
- Even though students spend most of their day doing it, this skill training is not required in university education.
- 77% of doctors do it incorrectly.
So what is this skill that so many of us are paying no attention to?
In our society, listening has become akin to common sense. We all think we are just supposed to have it or know how to do it. But just as common sense isn’t common, good listening skills are not innate.
At this point in my writing or in my workshop on listening, people are nodding their heads in agreement, but for the wrong reasons. We have all been victims of bad listening. So, when we talk about listening skill development, we usually think of other people and their bad listening skills.
We think of that doctor who rushed us along and dismissed us, or that salesman who glossed over our concerns or the co-worker or boss who interrupts us and never takes suggestions.
I am going to urge you to stop. Before you begin identifying all the people in your life who don’t listen to you, think about all the ways you aren’t listening to others. Turn the microscope inward. Since you know what poor listening feels like, are you inflicting those feelings on others? Now, I am going to ask you a trick question.
Are you a good listener?
This is a trick question, because you can’t answer it. Listening is an “other-centered” activity so it requires ones proficiency or deficiency in the skill to be assessed by another. In other words, you can say you have good listening skills but someone will need to as well. Listening is one of those skills that has to be verified and confirmed by another.
Ask those closest to you if they think you are a good listener. If the majority of the people in your life think you lack good listening skills, then you probably do.
The biggest barrier to listening is distraction. We are distracted by internal and external factors. Internal factors include our own thoughts, judgement, and impatience. External factors include our environment, cell phones, computers, and other people.
There are lots of really great resources on the importance of listening. The Bible actually has a lot to say about it:
James 1:19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.
Proverbs 18:13 If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
Proverbs 17:28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.
Other great leaders have toasted the power of listening:
“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”
~Bryant H. McGill
“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”
— Henry David Thoreau
“Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable—and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.”
— Peter Nulty, National Business Hall of Fame Fortune Magazine
Characteristics of good listeners:
- They can focus on others.
- They listen for both content and feeling/emotion.
- They can paraphrase not “parrot-phrase”. Meaning they can summarize in their own words without repeating verbatim what the speaker said.
- They use different listening styles as needed for the situation.
- They listen for understanding, not ammunition.
Listening is the most important communication skill you can have.
Call to action:
Picture the face of a person you think has great listening skills. Can you see her/him? Now, I want you to do two things:
1. Go tell him/her how much his/her listening skills have meant to you. Call, text, email, or go see him/her and say so. Chances are they could use the encouragement and you could use the compliment practice.
2. Try to emulate their listening skills in one interaction today. What do they do that makes them such a great listener? Try to do that at least once today.
What value do you get from being a good listener?