Shut up and listen

The art of listening to understand

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. — Ernest Hemingway

Think about the last time you received feedback at work. Did you take the words to heart as they were being spoken, or were you busy crafting in your mind a way to defend yourself?

How about the last time you listened to the “crazy” ideas of a co-worker? Were you listening with the intent to find value, or were you thinking of all the holes in their argument and how to shut them down?

What about the last time you spoke with a potential customer? Were you really trying to understand their business needs, or just coming up with new angles to sell your product?

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone you love and let their words actually soak into your soul? Or are you always busy thinking of your needs and how to make them understand?

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. — Stephen R. Covey

In business and in life, far too often, we simply listen to respond. Why is this the norm?! It seems that we are more concerned with pushing our agenda, or what we are going to say and how we are going to sound, than with trying to deeply understand the person we are speaking with.

This needs to change.

But really listening, instead of listening to respond, can be tough. It requires us to set aside our ego and our own personal objectives. Listening to understand demands that we open ourselves up to the idea that we don’t know it all, that we might not be the smartest person in the room, or that there may be the possibility of us not sounding as articulate as we hope. But if we don’t, we not only leave the person speaking feeling like they weren’t completely heard, we’re also short changing ourselves.

Slow down. Absorb. Appreciate the unique perspective every individual has.

When we listen to understand, we learn and we grow. We build stronger relationships, better teams, and greater companies. Who cares if our response is a little delayed and people might think we aren’t some constant wit-slinging articulate masterpiece of a human being?! Because honestly, we’re probably not. So really listen, and when we do respond, it is going to be that much more meaningful… and a few seconds of silence never hurt anyone.

Start listening to understand.

Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words. — Roy T. Bennett

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Originally published on mbaafterlife.

mbaafterlife.com started as a blog chronicling my journey of applying to and attending business school, but has since expanded into my exploration of business school, career, and life. You can follow me on Twitter at @iamjameskenichi.

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