The Art of Listening

men-talking“It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and another to hear.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Good leaders listen. Great leaders listen well. Listening is not waiting to talk, or waiting for your moment to jump in and relate your story or solve the problem. We all do that, it’s natural. Our brains are hardwired to listen for similarities and very quickly review everything in our memory banks that relates to our story or helps solve an issue. Essentially giving us information so we can talk. More rarely, do we actually listen to what’s being said without anticipating our own response.

If you think about anyone you’ve considered a great leader or mentor in your life, think about how they listened to you. Did you feel as if they “really understood” you? Much like love, this is a feeling we humans crave. We seek it out. We keep trying to get our story out, and our opinion across so someone hears us. Being truly listened to is as close to being loved as some people ever get. We have a physiological need to be heard. “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”  David Augsburger

In this era of overcommunication, conflicting data from everywhere, talking heads on every social media channel, who is actually listening to what is being said? When we are not heard, we get upset, we get angry, we protest, we act out – all trying to be heard.

Dialogue, implies “two,” from the Latin root “di.” This means one speaker and one listener, not two talkers. If all we do is talk and no one listens, how will anything ever be changed? Be moved or accomplished? It’s not possible because we need each other and we need to collaborate effectively in order to move the needle.

Great leaders know that listening is a strength, a skill that will serve them, the organization, and the cause well. In order for anyone to listen to you, you must first listen to them. Talking over someone is not listening, it’s just the opposite. Invalidating all that is trying to be said. Listening is not a sound bite. It is a true desire to understand what the person is saying, how they feel and what they are asking for – which is often, just to be heard and understood. This doesn’t mean agreement with whatever is being said. It means actively listening to understand the point-of-view and the communication of another. Not to solve, disagree or help, just to understand and hear.

Great leaders are great listeners. They know and understand what is being said. They know how to empathize and to make someone feel heard. Listening is a long lost art that we all need to start practicing – it’s more powerful than speaking.

So in this era of hyper “talking,” let’s all stop waiting to talk and listen to what’s being said. We might be surprised at what we hear.