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Listening – Why is it so difficult?

In a recent HBS article, Jim Heskett asked the question, has listening become a lost art?  Perhaps the bigger question is why do people find it so difficult to listen in the first place?  We have two ears and one mouth for a reason but some how that seems to have been misplaced along the way.  Perhaps much has to do with the influences of our parents and teachers who were, for the most part, our adult role models.  They definitely spoke more than they listened and consequently we (the kids) had to listen more than we spoke.  Then, on becoming adults, a right of passage emerges and it stealthily bestows permission to speak more and listen less.  In the business world something similar happens when one gets elevated into a leadership positions and the ability to listen mysteriously decreases.

To address this, one needs to reverse the mindset that suggests that the art of speaking is a more valuable skill than the art of listening.  This has also been perpetuated by the fact that the art of public speaking is so prominent; however what we are talking about is conversational, whether one on one or within a group, and is totally different.  Let’s consider why listening is in fact at the core of effective communication and leadership and much more important than speaking.

Control

Most people forget it that by asking the right questions you actually, in a covert manner, control the conversation.  In doing so effectively, you set the tone and agenda!

Delegation

By allowing others to share their perspective and ideas, they will more readily assume the responsibility and ownership for any action that might subsequently arise.

Approachability

If you are perceived as somebody that will listen, people will seek you out.  Very often people with challenges do not seek counsel for answers but to have somebody listen.

Ease

Surprisingly, listening is far easier than having to come up with all the answers – so why not take the path of least resistance?

Humility

By being a good listener you make it about the other person and less about yourself.  Though contrary to what our ego might be telling, this builds great rapport and respect.

These are all admirable qualities in order to exert influence whether through personal or professional interactions.  They are not ego driven but rather effectively leverage the talents of those around you and make you look good.  Is that not what a good parent, teacher, coach and leader should aspire to do in the first place??

About Bill Sex

Bill Sex is President of New England Coaching and specializes in supporting personal, professional and organizational advancement with specific emphasis on coaching skills, emotional intelligence and employee engagement / motivation.

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