The lost art of listening

The ability to communicate effectively with people from all backgrounds is an essential ingredient for living a fulfilled life. Good communication skills help us to form and maintain relationships, both personally and professionally. They help us to exchange value with others. The better able we are to communicate with others, the stronger our relationships will become. In business, an effective communicator will often have a distinct advantage over his or her lesser-able competitors. Furthermore, if you are a jobseeker, the majority of job adverts you encounter will list excellent communication skills as an essential requirement for the role.

Today, I would like to look at one communication skill in particular; listening. Personally, I regard listening as the most important of these skills because it forms the basis of every successful interaction which we have. Done properly, it helps us to better understand the views of others and identify ways in which we can help and support each other. The problem is that somewhere along the way, we have forgotten how to listen.

Nowadays, people no longer listen to understand. Perhaps we are just too busy, and effective listening does take time, after all, so we cut corners. People will nod and smile as their counterpart speaks, but very little is actually understood. The tendency is to simply wait for the other person to stop talking, and then carry on with what they had prepared to say. Instead of paying attention to what the other person is actually saying, most will simply be thinking about what they will say next, as soon as there is a break in the conversation. So many opportunities are missed to learn from others or offer help whenever this happens. Even worse, our relationships suffer.

When you find yourself in a conversation and it’s time to listen, put aside what you want to say next, and make the effort to understand what the other person is saying. Stop thinking about where you want to lead the conversation but listen to, and understand the other person. Let the conversation flow naturally.  This will lead to many more positive interactions with others, which can in turn open the door to new and exciting opportunities. Your personal relationships will be strengthened too, as you develop a deeper understanding of your friends and family.

Listening, when done right, is all about understanding. So, next time someone is speaking to you, pay attention. Rather than focusing on the points which you want to make or what you want to achieve, put your ego and your own agenda to one side and let the conversation flow. You never know, it might take you somewhere new and exciting, which wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t paying attention.

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