In nearly every job description that I have ever read, I have seen “communication skills” listed in some form or fashion. Oftentimes in professional life, we are expected to have superior presentation abilities. We are expected to be sharp, eloquent, and ready to answer any questions that a customer, coworker, or boss may ask us. We are expected to chime in during meetings with valuable insight and original perspectives. We are expected to interact warmly with our colleagues to foster an enjoyable work environment. We are expected to reach out to our partners and prospects to initiate conversations and arrange meetings. We are expected to talk. A lot.
We have become so focused on talking in the workplace that many of us have forgotten how to listen. While it is certainly important to develop public speaking skills and to become comfortable in customer-facing settings, we must remember to give other people opportunities to share their thoughts. Furthermore, when we do take pause, we should give others our undivided focus. We should listen with the intention to understand, not the intention to reply.
When you refrain from talking and devote all of your attention to another speaker, you are demonstrating one of the most sincere forms of respect. Listening is an act of humility; it is the noble acknowledgement that you don’t know everything, and that you are eager to learn from others. Listening, if done deeply and deliberately, is empowering for both the speaker and the listener. Not only do you create a chance to ascertain novel concepts, but you ascribe value to someone else’s ideas and opinions.
There is a difference between hearing and listening, just as there is a difference between talking and communicating. Hearing and talking are superficial, even anatomical functions. The receptors in your ears transmit sound waves to your brain, which processes information from your surroundings. Your brain sends signals to your vocal chords to enable them to vibrate in a certain way, and voila! You have heard and spoken. The missing factor here is the level of depth devoted to analyzing this information and attributing significance to it.
In an increasingly fast-paced world, we must make a conscious effort to listen to others. The more we listen, the more we learn, and the more we learn, the more we can contribute. By listening, we open ourselves to new realms of understanding and possibility, and we encourage others to share their unique viewpoints and experiences. By truly listening, we may resurrect a culture of reciprocity and respect, in which we can interact with others in deeper, more meaningful ways.
For the sake of our success, our business, our relationships, our intellect, and our integrity, we must recover the lost art of listening.