“We have but two ears and one mouth so that we may listen twice as much as we speak.” Thomas Edison
“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill
Many, many years ago, I naively assumed if one spoke, people would automatically listen. Having the gift of gab in my younger years, less so now, the thought of being a better-than-not listener never entered my mind. It was not until my late adolescence and early young adulthood, long before I became a therapist, I realized people had been confiding in me for quite sometime. Intuitively, I had been listening which seemed to be a natural and appropriate response. Looking back, I smile and recognize my folly in taking for granted an underestimated skill. Truly, it is no coincidence I found my comfortable place in a profession where listening is an irreplaceable commodity.
When people think about persuasive communicating, what often comes to mind is speaking. There are many eloquent, charismatic speakers who can wow an audience with a gift to inspire and mobilize, but are they effective listeners? Not necessarily! Listening is the underrated but invaluable sibling in communication. How many people have heard a terrific speaker, and when they meet one on one, the orator does not necessarily pay attention to a question or a comment. At times, they look around barely concentrating on you. We have all been in this position at one time or another. Not only quite the turnoff, the power of the intended message may lose its effectiveness. Good communication involves much more than the spoken language. To be an excellent speaker, teacher, mentor, manager or leader, you must hone your listening skills.
Many believe listening is like wisdom and improves with age often assuming young people do not listen. Yes, many are on their smartphones and are busy with their first priority being themselves. You would be surprised, however. They listen more than you think. In fact, because they are young and inquisitive, their listening skills may surpass those of their adult counterparts. Parents and teachers, please take notice! Twenty years ago, I was asked to see a young man who had been bullied and about to attend boarding school. It was clear after the first session he was not going to interact with me no matter how many open-ended questions I asked. Rather than sit in painful, dead silence for both of us, I decided my speaking skills were needed so I began talking. As I encouraged, suggested, motivated and tried to mobilize, this young man clasped his arms and maintained a perpetual scowl, but every week, he showed up promptly for his appointment. What did I do? I just kept talking as he continued to glare. After several weeks of these challenging sessions, the parents requested to see me. With anxiety and trepidation, I ushered them into my office waiting for them to express some disappointment in their son’s progress. To my astonishment, they thanked me explaining how pleased they were with their son’s growth. He was exercising, losing weight and taking a position of strength. This young man had been listening to me all along.
Is listening an art or a science? That can be debated. Perhaps, it is both! No matter, it is priceless to be a good listener. Can one retain or retrain such a skill? Of course! For some of us, it comes more naturally, but it is not impossible to relearn. I say relearn because without listening skills one could not have acquired the ability to speak or to read.
How does one re-experience a natural but submerged skill? Practice, practice and more practice would be my suggestion. Look in the mirror and ask yourself open-ended questions. Do this on a regular basis, and it will help you get in touch with the listening part of you. If you need more assistance, attend a Toastmaster’s meeting. As I have mentioned in another blog, this organization cannot help but sharpen your listening skills. Clubs are located all over the world with many in one particular geographical area. The members of this marvelous organization will be your most enthusiastic cheerleaders. Isn’t it beneficial for most of us to have some kind of support?
No matter how you continue to improve your listening skills, never take for granted their importance! Maintaining an open ear may avail you to opportunity which may be missed if you are not listening.