Want Success? Learn to Listen


February 11, 2008   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Learn to Listen

Learning the art of listening can help you become more successful in business and in your personal life. You can develop deeper friendships, keener professional awareness, and a more meaningful understanding with your partner. You can experience greater fulfillment in your relationships due to conversations holding a deeper meaning.

Honing your listening skills is not difficult. Once you make the conscious decision to become a better listener, and practice a few simple exercises, you will develop a greater insight into what people are really saying.

    • Words do not Convey the True Story: If you are only listening on a superficial level, you may hear the words another is saying, but you likely will not gain the true understanding behind the story, or the hidden truths that are being concealed.When you speak with someone on the telephone, you can hear the different voice inflections that give you indications of the other person’s emotional state, or even to their truthfulness. If you listen closely you will be able to tell if the other person is nervous, afraid, sad, depressed, or elated. Combining these verbal clues with the spoken words helps the listener decipher the emotional undertones behind a story. They may allow the listener to make preliminary judgments as to the truthfulness of a story.When engaged in a telephone conversation, the listener is probably more likely to notice voice inflection than if the two were talking in person. The lack of visual clues makes the ear more aware of verbal inflections. 
  • Most of the Story is Silent: The majority of communication takes place in the form of body language. Just by watching a person you know whether they are telling the truth or a tale, are angry or afraid, are happy or sad. Fidgeting hands, pacing, shifting eyes, tears, and visible shaking are all examples of possible behaviors you may witness that give clues as to the speaker’s emotional state. 

Paying attention to the eyes can give you a good indication as to the honesty of what is being said. A person who looks at the ground or shifts the eyes off to the side is hiding something and could be telling you a lie. It is extremely difficult for a person to look someone else directly into the eye and tell a lie without flinching.

  • Listen to the Whole Story: Whether you are speaking with an office colleague or a trusted friend, pay attention to visual and auditory clues as well as to the actual words being spoken. Noticing non-verbal language will tell you as much or more than the spoken word and will help you to gain understanding of the innuendo behind those words. There may be a whole lot more being said than originally meets the eye. 

In addition to watching body language, lean in toward the speaker and offer your undivided attention. Do not interrupt, but rather allow the speaker freedom to let the words flow unrestrained. When you have the opportunity, summarize what you were told and repeat it back to the speaker. This will reinforce that you are not only listening, but understanding as well.

Demonstrating interest in the conversation and summarizing the conversation back to the speaker reassures the other person and forms an intimacy between you. This is an important step towards building rapport. Once you have come to familiar ground, the speaker very well may continue with the conversation and reveal details they never intended.

If this begins to happen, keep in mind the context of your conversation and the nature of your relationship. You may suddenly be hearing intimate details that you would prefer not to have knowledge of, or a colleague could be giving you some very useful information about an upcoming deal. You then need to decide whether the conversation is beginning to eclipse your level of comfort or if continuing to listen will compromise your integrity. From there you will have to decide to either continue to listen or politely excuse yourself. Some conversations may provide crucial details to helping you achieve your goals, while others may begin to cross the line into confidential territory.

With a little practice and self-discipline, it is easy to learn to be a better listener. You can develop a deeper intimacy with your spouse, gain a greater understanding of your children, and achieve a better working relationship with your boss or colleagues. Learning the art of listening can enhance all areas of your life, providing you with greater understanding of the people around you. Just remember that you are supposed to be listening, not waiting to talk.

Written by David B. Bohl of Slow Down Fast.


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