Become a Better Listener and Make the World Better

Many people make New Year’s resolutions or set goals.  More articles now come out about how it is not even worth it as most people by now have started the process of quitting on them.  This seems like such a waste of good intentions.  However, what if more people set a goal to be a better listener, and actually followed up with specific actions?  What would happen to our work environment, families, customer service departments, and relationships with clients?  We might just end up with stronger relationships and more meaningful conversations, and I know this sounds dramatic, but I think it would make the world a better place!

The WSJ published an article January 12, “How ‘Active Listening’ Makes Both Participants in a Conversation Feel Better,” by Elizabeth Bernstein.  Bernstein mostly focuses on how to be a better active listener with a spouse or family member, but the tips are very relevant to business leadership and interviewing.  Bernstein encourages being mentally present when listening to someone, giving verbal and non-verbal cues to keep a person talking, legitimizing a person’s feelings or thoughts, asking open-ended questions, and more.

Bernstein quotes Dr. Graham Brodie, associate professor of communications at Louisiana State University, “Active listening starts with the real desire to help another person think through their feelings.”  In other words, it begins with a desire to be a better listener!  Why do you want to be a better listener?  Let me list just a few thoughts beyond it is just common courtesy: 1) You will not get smarter talking all the time – you have to learn from others; 2) You will identify and solve problems faster because people will have courage to bring them to you; 3) You will build stronger relationships with partners and team members; and, 4) People are more motivated when you genuinely validate their feelings and thoughts, even if you do not change your view point or direction of a project.

I encourage you to read the article.  It may require gaining access to a subscription to the WSJ.  Additionally, here are some of the ideas I took away and will implement.

  1. If it is not a good time to listen to the other person, let him or her know, and then agree on a time to get together.  This avoids listening half-heartedly.
  2. Put the phone, iPad and laptop away. Turn off the TV.  Give the person undivided attention.
  3. Make eye contact.
  4. Create an open body posture. No crossing your arms!  Lean in.
  5. Ask open ended questions to encourage them to share more information and show that you are curious.
  6. Occasionally nod, say, “Yes,” “Right,” “Hmm, mmm.”
  7. In a business setting, taking occasional notes can also be appropriate, and even possibly a must.

Do you want to be a better listener?  Read the article.  Identify 2 to 3 concepts you can apply starting today.  At the end of the week, evaluate yourself.  Put it on your “To Do” list to evaluate your listening skills periodically, and identify those times you did well and those when you could have done better.

Happy New Year!  Let’s make Corporate America and the world a better place by listening and engaging.

Joel