The wisest leaders recognise how powerful listening is – Pallavi Pinakin

In life, and especially in the corporate arena, we focus a lot on how to speak impactfully, present powerfully and negotiate skilfully. But rarely do we focus on how to listen effectively.

Listening is one of those highly underrated skills, which – if you master it – can be game changing for your relationships, career and personal growth. The reason why communication is often ineffective is because most people are more interested in talking and getting their own message across than hearing what others have to say.

Even when we are supposedly listening, we’re often actually thinking about what to say next to sound smart or cool. As soon as the person finishes speaking, we might bring the conversation back to ourselves by saying something like: “I know how you feel; something similar happened to me a few years ago…”

Worse still, we may end up checking our phone and tuning out during the conversation. In various ways, we prioritise ourselves instead of the other person – and this prevents us from being genuinely good listeners.

Listening in a distracted manner causes us to miss out on key information provided by the speaker as well as implied meanings underlying their words. In addition, people can generally tell when we’re not listening to them… and it isn’t a great feeling. No wonder so many relationships – both personal and professional – suffer due to poor or superficial listening skills.

The best leaders recognise how powerful listening can be. You’ve surely heard those inspiring stories about CEOs who remember each employee’s name, know an astounding amount about their families and personal interests, and can recall minute details from previous conversations.

Being a superlative listener is what makes all this possible. Even among our friends and colleagues, we tend to love and value those who give us the gift of listening. These are the people with whom we feel we can share meaningful stories or talk deeply about things that matter.

To connect truly with people, form accurate judgments and build lasting relationships, it is vital to be a good listener. Here are six tips to help you listen more effectively…

STAY FOCUSSED Disconnect your mind from distracting thoughts. Begin with the most basic of steps and put away your devices, and tune into what the other person is saying. Consciously resist the urge to think about what you’re going to say next and focus instead on listening. Maintaining eye contact is a great way to enhance understanding as it helps you to pick up nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language.

REMEMBER NAMES Our names hold a special power because they are linked to personal identity. That’s why it’s worth making the effort to pronounce people’s names correctly – especially when they’re from a different culture. Simply taking the trouble to learn someone’s moniker goes a long way towards making your interactions stronger.

LISTEN ACTIVELY Not only is it important to listen attentively but also to respond appropriately. If someone tells you a positive piece of news for instance, you could potentially respond in one of four ways: active and constructive (‘that’s wonderful – tell me more’); passive and constructive (‘great job!’); active and destructive (‘this isn’t going to work out so well for you…’); or passive and destructive (‘I’m going to get some coffee, all right?’).

The best kind of response is clearly active and constructive – where you are positive, engaged and interested to know more. Isn’t this the kind of reaction you’d want when you share happy news?

PICK UP DETAILS Listening closely allows you to glean valuable nuggets about a person – what they like and dislike, their hopes and goals, as well as their life journey so far and perspectives on different topics. Use these details to ask insightful questions and have more meaningful conversations. This also demonstrates to the other person that you’re paying attention to what they say.

‘WAIT’ IN ‘AWE’ These two easy tools can help you to talk less and listen more. WAIT stands for ‘Why Am I Talking?’ If you sense you’re in ‘chatterbox mode’ and might be dominating the dialogue, it’s time to take a step back and wait. AWE stands for ‘And What Else?’ Asking this question is a great way to keep the focus on the other person and encourage him or her to elaborate further.

‘TING’ LISTENING The ancient Chinese followed a listening philosophy called TING, which included four key components: ears to hear the speaker’s words; mind to interpret their message; eyes to read nonverbal cues; and heart to listen empathetically, and feel what the person really needs.

This holistic approach can help you listen more deeply, respond appropriately and strengthen interpersonal communication on a fundamentally human level.