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The Lost Art of Listening

The title of The Lost Art of Listening, with a women holding her hand do her ear.

Communication is at the heart of everything - relationships, productivity, information...and it can be both verbal and non-verbal. And when you’re not talking, you should be listening. But are you truly hearing what someone else is saying? Or are you just hearing their voice.

You've heard it before: we have two ears and one mouth; use them wisely. When in doubt, listen. But not just so you are ready to respond - you need to understand.

Why is listening so difficult today?

The number of distractions in our daily lives make it nearly impossible to focus on just one thing or one person. Our brains have become used to constant stimuli, coming at us from all directions. The peaceful joy of focusing on one thing, topic, or person is rarely enjoyed, and even less commonly taught. Help me bring it back, won’t you?

What is listening?

Simply put, it is giving attention to a sound or action. A little more detail explains it as the active process of receiving and responding to spoken – and sometimes unspoken – messages. It is more than hearing, which is a passive activity. Listening is an active one, and one that takes focus, practice, and commitment. Hearing just happens when you aren’t necessarily paying any attention. But listening takes effort. Listening gives consideration and attention. Listening creates the magic.

I found an amazing article by Erin Eatough, PhD, who talks about and describes the 7 types of listening skills. Some you inherently have them, others need to learn to develop them. But each of us is different in that we need to learn which come more naturally to us, and which take practice (and one we need to practice not doing):

  1. Informational listening. When you want or need to learn something.

  2. Discriminative listening. Tone of voice, inflection, hearing subtle cues, i.e. “reading between the lines.”

  3. Sympathetic listening. Focused on feelings and you can provide support.

  4. Comprehensive listening. Used to understand and analyze what is being said.

  5. Empathetic or therapeutic listening. You imagine being in their position and how they feel.

  6. Critical listening. Deeper than comprehensive listening and used for problem solving.

  7. Biased listening. This is selective listening, and you don’t get all the facts. You hear what you want to hear.

Why do we need to know how to listen?

We need to know how to listen to develop and have better communication, engaging interactions, increased understanding, stronger collaboration, heightened learning, and stronger relationships.

How do you develop strong listening skills?

Let’s start here. How many times have you found your attention wandering when listening to a boring speaker? How many times have you nodded your head in understanding even though you may have missed the main point? There is nothing uncommon or irregular in this behavior. It happens to all of us. We may hear what another person is saying but unless we listen – truly listen – we can’t or won’t be able to comprehend what they are saying.

Learning how to be a strong listener isn’t as difficult as you may think, but it does take effort. It requires discipline and self-training. The first thing is to control your thoughts. You cannot be a good listener if you allow your thoughts to wander. This happens most often when some word or statement made by the speaker triggers your memory, and you drift off into your own little world. You need to learn how to quickly pull your thoughts back and refocus. This is not easy, because the mind is a powerhouse. It flies in all directions, many times without your bidding. Or better yet, when you know you need to be in listening mode, focus ahead of time.

A good way to stay focused is practice: train your mind to stay focused for long periods of time. Listen to a radio or a television show, a podcast, or recorded speech. You let it run for a fixed time, perhaps starting with five minutes. If your mind loses track of what the speaker is saying, then restart. Do it with different speeches and topics until you can listen without a break for five minutes. Next, increase this time to ten minutes, and repeat the exercise.

You will find that you can concentrate better and comprehend what the speaker is saying. You now need to repeat the exercise using a video, where the speaker waves his hands or stops for effect or rattles off sentences. You will find that very often these minor things send your mind on its own trip. You need to stop the mind from doing so. In other words, you must not allow yourself to be distracted by the dress, mannerisms, or the activity going around the speaker.

If you don’t want to practice alone, play games with others! There are games to play that include asking questions and staying silent while others listen, and focusing on their answers. And have you ever played telephone? That’s an amazing test of listening. And it’s entertaining.

After practice and commitment to listening, you will be ready to listen to people in real life. Your mind will stay focused, and you will find that you are a better listener now. In addition, you will find that better listeners are also better understood. This is because your response will be in keeping with the expectations of the speaker. Also – please keep in mind that’s it’s never perfect. Ask questions. Clarify. Remain curious. But keep the focus on the conversation and the speaker.

How do strong listening skills affect your image?

When people feel ignored, you’ll be seen as cold, aloof, uncaring, and lazy. Perhaps even untrustworthy. But when you have strong listening skills, and people feel important around you because they have your undivided attention, you will be perceived as warm, welcoming, loving, and supportive. Your image and reputation will expand and reflect the feelings of others.

If you are looking for a place to start changing, growing, or enhancing your image and personal brand, start with listening. Set yourself apart from others and develop and practice the art of listening in yourself. Your relationships will thank you for it.


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