Listen up! Why listening is the most underrated communication skill.

Do you immediately forget someone’s name when you meet them for the first time? 

Chances are that you do – most of us do, to a lesser or greater extent. But what’s really going on here? Is it that we’re generally forgetful? Or that we’ve been caught off-guard? Perhaps we’re just a bit rubbish when it comes to names!?

Well it’s probably none of these things. What’s really going on is that we’re hearing someone speak – but we’re not actually listening.

Hearing is one of our senses, of course. It’s a physical process whereby vibrations are transformed into nerve impulses and sent to the brain where they are perceived as sounds. We have no control over the process (unless we put our fingers in our ears!!). Listening, however is a conscious process. Listening involves making a deliberate effort to notice the reception of sounds – to pay attention to them, to evaluate them, to remember them – and to respond appropriately. But we all know this, right? We’ve been told to listen by parents and teachers since we were toddlers!

It’s true that listening is something that’s drummed into us throughout childhood (to make the lives of our carers and educators easier, if nothing else!) But when it comes to adulthood and balancing busy home lives with challenging careers, have we forgotten how to do it properly?

Our adult lives are full of noise, distractions and pressures. We are so busy, so focused on self-preservation or on chasing lofty goals in competitive environments that we sometimes lose track of the present and of what’s going on around us. Consider this. When you are having conversations, do you often find your mind wandering? Do you get easily distracted by other stimuli (phone notifications, etc)? Do you decide in advance how you’re going to respond to questions or find yourself interrupting the other person? If so, your listening skills could do with a brush up. This month on the blog we’re exploring the value of relationships for helping you get ahead – and grounding yourself in the present by paying attention to other people and what’s happening around you could be crucial to your future success.

Here’s why listening is key :

It strengthens your relationships.
Listening to what people say helps you understand them and identify with their situations and emotions which boosts and fortifies the mutual bonds and connections in your relationships. Your relationships are vital for providing you with support, motivation and opportunities in your life.

It promotes your ability to learn and retain useful information.
Going back to the name remembering – it may seem trivial but it’s not. If you make an effort to listen and remember someone’s name when you meet them – as well as any other interesting information about them, this could pay huge dividends in the future in terms of networking or making the most of workplace opportunities. It will give you an advantage over most other people –  and will enhance your skill at seeking out and gathering useful knowledge.

It clarifies situations and information.
Listening, evaluating what you have heard and questioning is the best way of forming a good comprehension of what’s going on around you. In terms of what is happening in your team, workplace, company or industry as a whole, this broad clarity and understanding could be very useful in helping you spot trends, opportunities and get ahead.

It enhances your reputation and makes you memorable!
Humans are hard-wired to make meaningful connections with each other, so someone who demonstrates particular ability at this skill will get noticed and appreciated. People are inevitably drawn to those who consciously spend time with them, and who consider empathetically the things they say. Listening properly shows that you are authentic and that you care – qualities we look for in life and in leadership.

It boosts your problem-solving and creativity.
Focusing on other people’s ideas and points of view gives you lots of new perspectives – you can begin to see things differently and learn to approach problems and tasks from different angles. It broadens your viewpoint and makes you a more experienced and rounded person.

Listening, then, is a hugely important but overlooked skill in life, and work. Although honing it requires effort, intent and focus, the rewards are numerous. Tune into the Babyproof podcast episode #44 for some helpful tools to help you sharpen up those listening skills – and email me if you’d like more information about my Having it all coaching programme.