Ernest Hemingway said, “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” How unbelievably true is that – most people never listen. They often think they are listening, but in reality, they aren’t listening at all. Listening is a skill that most people do not possess, especially those we often view as leaders – such as CEOs, managers, or supervisors.
My mantra is ‘Listen until it hurts’. Listen from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed at night. If you are in a conversation and you think you have listened about as much as you can, swallow your words and listen some more. You should never stop listening (unless you are pausing to ask a question, that is). When your ego wants to speak, remember the more powerful skills is to listen to understand; then speak.
Listening is a learnable skill – All leaders must learn to recognize the need to listen – there is just no way around it. However, in order to learn to listen, one must believe he or she can do so. While it may be true that some people are natural listeners, the reverse is normally true. Most of us like to hear ourselves talk about anything, about nothing – it doesn’t really matter. In leadership (or any situation in life), it is best to start and end with listening. Even if you can regurgitate what the person said or verbalize it, it doesn’t actually mean we are putting the pieces of what they are saying together and truly understanding – “listening.”
When learning to listen, we need to minimize outside distractions. The person being listened to requires and deserves undivided attention. Give it to them. Ask open-ended, probing questions and let the individual elaborate. Do not interrupt. Above all else, learn to listen. And listen emphatically and listen with your third ear (e.g, to body language, to what is not said, and nuances in pace and tone).