By Sara Harrup
When someone starts talking about listening skills we usually start to groan. Yeah I know all about listening, we say. I’ve been to a million courses and heard a million people talk about communication and listening. There isn’t anything more I can learn. I mean, it’s a basic skill. And therein lies an interesting phenomenon. We all know how to listen yet few of us do it well and do it often.
I used to think I was a great listener until a few years ago, when I met a man who has it down to an art form. This man has turned listening into his living. His entire career focuses on listening to people’s opinions and feedback and finding the value in what they have to say. Having a conversation with him is one of life’s feel-good adventures. He speaks in public forums about communication and listening and after tuning into him for an hour I walked away feeling almost ashamed of what a poor effort I put in.
Have you ever….
Been in meetings and, whilst other people are talking, you are formulating what you are going to say next?
Had a conversation when you and the other person were both talking at once?
Had a phone call or web conference and been using your computer at the same time?
I could answer yes to all of these and they are all signs that I wasn’t really listening.
Listening takes effort and concentration. It isn’t something that occurs passively. I think we under-estimate what a powerful tool listening is. When we listen well and show that we are listening we strengthen our relationships. People feel good when they are listened to. We pick up on subtle cues that can drive conversations into new and fruitful places. Sometimes when we demonstrate we have been listening we can make a person feel we have understood them and articulated their themes in a way no one else can.
These days I listen for a living! It’s a fundamental part of my work and without it I couldn’t add any value to my client’s organisations or lives. If I’ve already decided what someone’s issue is then the solution I provide is not going to work. The satisfaction I get when a client tells me I have captured the essence of their issue is great! It means I have taken the first step in being able to help them.
I still have slip ups and they tend to happen if I am in a busy room or at home with my family. The hustle and bustle of family life distracts me and I often forget to really focus in on what my family members are saying to me. They deserve my attention too! Maybe my next project isn’t listening for a living, it’s listening for life!
About Sara: Sara Harrup is a Cause & Effective Associate. She is a former not for profit CEO and has first-hand knowledge of the challenges and issues faced by organisations in the sector and the people who work in them. Sara brings this experience and insight to our Leadership Search team.