As a school child, I was constantly reprimanded for talking too much. Mrs. Bissell, my 5th grade teacher, told me she saw the back of my head more than she did my face. (Apparently, I was always turned around in my desk talking to someone.) More recently, while in the gym, a trainer commented that if I put as much enthusiasm into working out as I do talking, I would achieve my fitness goals quickly. Clearly, I’m not an introvert and have never had trouble striking up conversations.
Listening is another matter. It is a critical communication skill that some of us have to work hard on. Listening to someone, with the desire to understand, is a profound act of human respect. Stephen Covey points out, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Ouch. That calls out the selfishness of not listening.
A basic human desire is to be heard. When we listen to someone, it says, “you matter”. Too many people have bought the lie that you have to agree with someone in order to listen. The reality is, without listening, effective communication is impossible.
Why don’t we listen to others?
One reason can be we are too busy and distracted. I used to get annoyed with my husband for asking me to stop what I was doing and look at him while he talked to me. My multi-tasking tendency would have me thinking, “I can chop vegetables and listen at the same time!” I have come to understand that giving my full attention along with eye contact is an important way to be fully present in a conversation.
Another reason listening requires intentional effort is our brains can process information about four times faster than most people talk. This means we have to make a conscious effort to focus our mental attention on the person speaking. The tendency of an active mind is to wander.
Listening is a skill. My workshops on Masterful Communication have always included segments on writing professionally and speaking with confidence. This year, I am adding a segment on Listening Skills.
If leadership is about others, then listening is a vital part of leadership.