Listening is not waiting to speak!

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Eammon Percy
Eammon Percy

In last week’s blog post, I talked about how communications is the most important leadership skill of a business owner, and what to do to improve it.  Of all the communications skills, I believe the most important is the ability to listen and to do it well.

Here are some interesting facts on the power of listening according to www.prdaily.com:

  • Number of business studies that indicate that listening is a top skill needed for success in business: 35
  • Amount of time we spend listening: 45%
  • Percentage of what we know that we have learned by listening: 85%
  • Amount of the time we are distracted, preoccupied or forgetful when listening: 75%
  • Reduction in office visits by chronically ill patients after they have been listened to for 15-30 minutes: 30%
  • Percentage of Americans who have had any formal education in listening: 2%

From business to marriage, listening is a critical skill for success in life. Unfortunately, many of us have forgotten how to listen well.  Rather than truly listening, we often default to waiting to speak.  You have probably heard the expression that God gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason, so we can listen twice as much as well speak! It’s true, but it can also be changed.

Here is what I recommend in order to become a better listener:

  1. Practice the 2 Minute Rule: In Ray Dalios’ recent book, Principles, he talks about the importance of seeking, receiving and understanding the perspective of other credible people in order to ensure he is uncovering a potential blind spot. He does that by invoking a rule to listen, without interruption for 2 full minutes, in order to encourage the speaker to complete the thought fully and to give him the time to absorb it. Try it for yourself sometime.
  2. Concentrate all your attention on the speaker: Apparently, those who had the good fortune to speak with Mother Teresa expressed their admiration for how she made them feel singularly important by focusing all her attention on them while they spoke. They felt they were the most important person in the world to her at that moment! Avoid distracting behaviour while in conversation with someone and give them your full attention.
  3. Ask clarifying questions: To listen effectively, it is important to both understand the speaker and let the speaker know you understand them. Even small assumptions or misunderstandings can become a much bigger problem later. Take the time during a conversation to ask clarifying questions in order to confirm your own understanding, expand your understanding and demonstrate to the speaker that you know, understand and care about what they are saying.

We spend most of our day communicating with customers, colleagues, investors and others, and if we don’t learn how to listen, we are effectively missing many opportunities to learn, influence and grow as business leaders while making those around us feel important as well!

Eamonn has a B. Eng. (Electrical) from Lakehead University, MBA (Finance) from University of Toronto, and has completed Executive Education at Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He lives in Vancouver, Canada. Follow him on twitter @EamonnPercy.