A few days ago, we arrived in South Africa to spend two weeks getting to know a bit about the people we will soon be living and working with. We recognize that the most essential communication skill, and one we will have to use extensively, is the skill of good listening. Listening is indispensable to good leadership. People who are genuinely listened to will feel valued, respected, and heard. And nearly always, people will trust you when they know you are truly listening to them.
- Good communication requires you to be a good listener. Listening is the one communication skill we all think we are good at. In reality, most of us struggle in this area. One reason for our struggle with listening is that while we are taught other communication skills, such as writing and speaking, we are often not taught the importance and necessity of careful listening. As children and youth, we are often told to listen, but we are seldom taught how to listen until we are adults (if then!). By then, we are so used to thinking that we are good listeners that we struggle to actually be good listeners. For very few people does good listening come easily. Most of us must work at being good listeners.
- Good listening requires an emotional investment. You cannot merely listen to the sound of the words you are hearing when someone speaks. If the health of the relationship is important to you, then give your undivided attention to the person. Giving your undivided attention takes emotional investment. It means that you intentionally decide to stop thinking about yourself, or what experience or knowledge you have that may help them, and start thinking about the person speaking to you. I will be the first to admit, this is still a struggle for me although I have every intention of being focused on the other person.
- Good listening also requires you to give feedback. Perhaps the best way to do this is to paraphrase back to the person what you hear them saying. This can help clarify misunderstanding – and misunderstanding is at the root of many relationship problems! Giving good feedback will require you to give the speaker your undivided attention. Too often we don’t hear what others are saying because we are distracted by our own thoughts and preparations for a response. Other forms of distractions include looking at our phone when the person is talking or looking at others passing by. Good listening requires that we make every effort to give undivided attention to the speaker.
- Good listening leads to asking good questions. When you practice good listening, you will ask good questions. A good question is usually met with a response such as, “That’s a great question!” Or, you get a pause and see a searching look in the eyes of the person you are addressing. Good questions usually result from listening to understand and gain information. Good listening always leads to questions beyond the obvious.
You may be thinking that you cannot be a good listener. The truth is you can if you work at it. I still work at it every time I have a conversation. But it is work I want to do because I want to have healthy relationships – at home, at work . . . wherever I go!
How are your listening skills? Be vulnerable and ask those around you to rate your listening skills using the four points mentioned above.
If you would like help in achieving your goals as a leader or in any area of your life, call us at 208-880-0307 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a complimentary coaching session. To read Errol’s other posts, visit Christ-Centered Life Coaching.