Breedlove's Briefing: Why Good Listening Is a Critical Skill

February 3 - Stephanie Breedlove

Hi! I’m Stephanie Breedlove, Co-Founder of HomePay, Author and Angel Investor.

I absolutely adore taking an idea and giving it life in the form a business, then leading it to its full potential. Nothing is more fun. (Seriously!) I’d love for every woman who wants to start her own business to say the same thing, so here I am, mentoring millennial entrepreneurs. When I’m not working, I like to recharge and head outdoors to hike, bike, or stand up paddle board!

Is that list of business news and trending articles you’ve tagged still unread? I get it. Allow me to help. Take a couple minutes to read my summary of articles serving the most pertinent, actionable business topics. Or, take 10 minutes to read the full article, and put another brick on the foundation of your growing career.

This Week’s Must-Read:

Why Good Listening Is a Critical Skill

Who it’s for:

Everyone. Listening is a game-changing skill for all who aspire to be quality leaders.

  1. Why it’s important:

Research shows that only 10 percent of us listen effectively. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. Most of us actually think we are good listeners, but mastering this deceptively challenging skill can make or break your professional success.

Listening Well is Powerful. In a 2016 survey of 2,000 employees conducted by Bain & Company, participants chose “centeredness” – the ability to be mindfully present – as the top characteristic. Being present and silencing our inner dialogue while giving our full attention to others makes them feel both heard and valued. We tend to value speaking over listening, especially among leaders and founders, who are often typecast as extroverted, outgoing mavericks. We admire people who can clearly express what they’re thinking the moment it crosses their minds. But listening is also a superpower: It enables you to gain new perspectives, to hear what’s not being said, and to learn what you don’t know you’re missing.

Three Different Types of Listening. Not all conversations are created equal. There are actually three different types of listening.

  1. Internal Listening: This occurs when we’re absorbed in our own thoughts and simply pretend to hear the other person.
  2. Focused Listening: This occurs when we’re listening but not fully connecting; we often miss nonverbal cues and nuances.
  3. 360-Degree Listening: This occurs when we’re not only listening to what someone says but also how they say it – as well as what they don’t say.

Great listeners are less like sponges and more like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of, and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize and clarify your thinking. Research shows that the best listeners share four qualities:

  1. Participation. Great listeners ask follow-up questions and probe deeper into the topic. We often think silence indicates deep focus, but good listening is a two-way dialogue.
  2. Support. Showing support and confidence boosts the other person’s self-esteem during the conversation.
  3. Cooperation. When feedback flows smoothly in both directions, neither party is likely to become defensive.
  4. Positivity. Strong listeners provide constructive, considerate feedback.

How can we become better listeners? Here are 7 techniques to work on for improving your listening skills:

Make Eye Contact. It might sound obvious, but eye contact shows respect – and confidence.

Let Them Finish. Allow your partner to complete their sentence or thought. Don’t even think about your response until they’ve finished speaking.

Listen for What’s Not Being Said. An estimated 80 percent of all communication is nonverbal. As you listen, watch for your partner’s facial expressions, posture, eye contact, gestures, and breathing.

Ask Open-Ended Questions. Asking someone, “What did you think about the project?” will elicit a richer response than “Did you enjoy working on the project?”

Make Time for Reflection. A calendar crammed with back-to-back meetings doesn’t leave room for reflection.

Watch Your Ratios. It’s good to notice how much you listen versus speak in a typical exchange. An 80/20 split should be your goal.

Build a Team of Great Listeners. Skilled listeners learn faster, work well in teams and tend to enhance the organizational culture.

Top Take-Away:Most of us think we are better listeners than we really are. The endless benefits from learning to become a good listener are worth the effort. Listening is a skill we should focus on for our lifetime.

Additional reading on the power of listening:

Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

What Great Listeners Actually Do

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