3 steps to becoming a good listener
Yes, we were all taught (hopefully) to listen to our parents and to listen in school. However, few of us were taught good listening—the active, disciplined kind of listening that helps us examine and challenge the information we hear in order to improve its quality and quantity, and thereby improve our decision-making.
Why is this important? According to Bernard Ferrari, author of Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All, good listening is the key to developing fresh insights and ideas that fuel success. Ferrari says that although most people focus on learning how to communicate and how to present their own views more effectively, this approach is misguided and represents missed opportunities.
So what does it take to become a good listener?
In an article for McKinsey Quarterly, Ferrari writes, "The many great listeners I’ve encountered throughout my career as a surgeon, a corporate executive, and a business consultant have exhibited three kinds of behavior .... By recognizing—and practicing—them, you can begin improving your own listening skills and even those of your organization."
The three steps are:
1. Be respectful
The best listeners recognize that they cannot succeed without seeking out information from those around them and they let those people know that they have unique input that is valuable. When you show respect for other people's ideas, they're more likely to reciprocate. They're also more likely to continue to share their ideas, which foster growth and increase the likelihood of success.
Being a good listener also involves drawing out important information from others to help them brainstorm and uncover fresh ideas and solutions. In other words, good listeners don't jump in with answers or give lectures about what was done wrong; they actively listen and then ask respectful questions that will ultimately help uncover solutions or plans of action.
It's also important to note that asking respectful questions does not mean that the questions can't be tough or pointed questions. The key is to ask questions in a manner that will promote as opposed to hinder the free and open flow of communication and idea-generating.
2. Talk less than you listen
Ferrari says that he has developed his own variation of the 80/20 rule, which is that his conversation partner should be speaking 80 percent of the time, while he should speak only 20 percent of the time. He also tries to use his 20 percent of the time asking questions rather than trying to have his own say. Although he acknowledges that it's difficult to suppress your urge to speak more than listen, with practice and patience you can learn to control the urge and improve the quality and effectiveness of your dialogues by "weighing in at the right time."
Finally, Ferrari points out that interrupting with a question from time to time might be needed to move the conversation along or redirect it. However, his advice is to do so judiciously and respectfully so as to not inhibit productive sharing of information that will ultimately better inform your decisions.
3. Challenge assumptions
By: Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter
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