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Listening is a master skill for greatness

5-minute read

Listening is the unsung hero of communication. But hearing isn’t necessarily listening. You see, we come to most conversations with an agenda. Usually that agenda involves either being heard or escaping being heard.

Not to mention, it’s great orators that get praise. Great listeners won’t get any. The benefits of listening however are much bigger than a pat of the back.

But many people struggle with it. The thinking? It is natural and easy and just part of communication. Wrong!

Here’s a story.

Regina on January 30th was a brutally cold, windy city with a cavalry of exhaust emitting from multiple engines on the streets, and a few pedestrians moving carefully across icy side walks. One such pedestrian was Albert, a handsome, shivering, eager man in a hurry to get through the Brewed Awakening doors. A friend had asked to meet him there for a coffee. After ordering a 16oz cup with a little room for cream, Albert sat and skillfully navigated the conversation past the weather, the family, the holiday season into the more meaningful, “how are you doing”.

The friend's reply:“Things at work are not going well”. Brief silence, before the friend continues, somewhat slumped in his chair: “I feel micromanaged and micro meaningful with a micro purpose. I’m asked to innovate and modernize our corporate outputs in one breath and then in the other, I’m asked to repel my ideas and knowledge in favor of status quo. It’s a teeter totter.” Through a long sigh, the friend continued, “But things are great at home, thank goodness. And I’ve been super into Young Fathers. I love the song writing. I relate to: “I wanna be king until I am. A man is just a man I understand.” At this time the friend sat up in his chair, suggesting optimism that he’s not alone in feelings, as he connected the lyrics back to his work. “I guess I’ve just been thinking a lot about work and wondering if everything has gone according to plan. Wondering what I could change?”

Albert was listening, and here’s how he showed it!

  1. He forgot some outdated advice he was given that falls in the category of active listening. Albert didn’t just parrot, “what I heard you say is that you feel micromanaged and micro meaningful with a micro purpose at work”. Parroting misses the point and possibility of listening.

  2. Rather, he interpreted what he heard. “I heard what you said about your work, and I interpreted that your work is asking for what they think they want and know you can deliver. But they aren’t ready or courageous enough to execute on your big ideas”.

  3. Then Albert clarified what he heard his friend say, by following with this: “But just in case I got it wrong, let me be sure I understood you. You’ve been given the illusion of autonomy at work, and that has you second guessing the value of your role and ideas. Home has been a source of support for you, which has been a help. I’m super excited to give Young Fathers a listen, I’ll check them out on Spotify tonight when I get home. And, it sucks that you feel off track, at least you have home and music to help you through this work stuff.”

  4. Then, to open the door to deep conversation he asked an open-ended question, “What could get you back on plan?”

  5. Later that night, he validated what he heard and did what he said he was going to do in the following text: “hey man, great coffee love the catch up, we’ll do it again sooner than later. Checked out Young Fathers, super good, loved In my View and Lord, thanks for the recommend. Gonna dance party to these jams tonight”.

Why does this 5-step process work?

By following these steps, you get closer to being a consistently empathetic listener; and, according to Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that is the level where you demonstrate curiosity, make emotional connection and forget your own agenda. These things can help you make meaningful relationships and gain leadership excellence.

Said differently, because we try to develop communication skills around reading, writing and speaking while spending very little effort on developing our ability to really hear! Becoming a better listener can set yourself apart.

Here’s Covey’s continuum:

At the first four (4) levels, the listener hears with their own frame of reference in mind. But it is at Level 5 that true communication occurs. This is where the listener attempts to see things from the other person's perspective or point of view. Powerful.

Here’s what’s important for an empathetic listener:

  • Focus only on the speaker

  • Listen carefully to the words used

  • Understand the feelings behind the words

  • Recognize the emotions expressed

Finally, remember listening isn’t always agreeing. What matters is that like Albert, you’re attentive and engaged, and that the friend, employer, employee, client, etc. maintains dignity.

"Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd have preferred to talk."

If you've got a story, we'd love to listen!

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