On Listening

May 10, 2024 Charlie Kroon

Good listening is an act of empathy and curiosity. Empathy is understanding how others feel, what their world looks like, and being compassionate towards them. This means that the main goal of a conversation, any conversation, is to seek to understand. To understand the other person, their viewpoint, their motivations.

In another life, I was a journalist. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a journalist is that anyone can be interesting as long as you ask the right questions, don’t fear silence, and listen well.

Listening is a skill, and as with any skill, you can develop it. While researching the concept of ‘good listening’, I put together a small framework to break down the process of listening emphatically.

Check Your Intentions Before Going Into a Meeting

At times we can enter a conversation as if we’re entering a boxing ring. Ready to fight and to convince others of our great ideas. But, the idea of having good conversations is to explore the other person’s point of view, not to force them to agree with ours. Listening well goes hand in hand with being open and vulnerable. We need to allow others to change our minds with their perspectives, knowledge, and opinions.

Be Present

Research has found that when people speak to others who are not paying attention, the speakers share less information and may not express themselves as well. To listen well, you need to pay full attention to what the other is saying.

At a digital-first company, we have many virtual meetings, which can come with different distractions than face-to-face meetings. Make it a habit to put your Slack messages off when you’re entering a Zoom call. Remove your phone from your desk, and close the windows on your desktop you still have open. Even if you think you can multitask, science shows that you can’t.

Act as if You’re a Journalist

Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”Listening goes beyond hearing what others are saying. It also involves asking questions and paying attention to what is said, and what is being said.

But it’s essential to ask the right questions. When you ask judgemental questions, it can easily turn the conversation into a self-promoting elevator pitch. A rule of thumb you can follow is that curious questions don’t end with the words: ’ Don’t you think?’.

When the main goal is understanding their perspective, people will trust you more. With trust comes better relationships and collaborations. And with better collaborations comes, ultimately, a better product.

Becoming a great listener isn’t easy, but with practice, you will develop understanding. Because when it comes down to it, when you’re not listening well, you’re missing out on so much.

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