Friday, January 24, 2014

LISTENING: The part of communication that is IGNORED!

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said” 
–Peter Drucker, Management Theorist

While expressing your thoughts in a coercive, powerful manner is crucial to being a good communicator and manager, this is, in fact, only half of the battle won. The other, equally important aspect of good communication involves developing your listening skills.

As a manager, good listening skills are especially important to you in order to help you develop a better rapport with your team members, understand and hence resolve any problems with customers and colleagues more effectively, and to ‘read between the lines’ more adeptly to gain a clearer understanding of how well or otherwise your audience is responding to you.

The first step towards developing good listening skills is to want and consciously intend to do so. The second step is to acquire and master certain behaviors that will help you to be a better listener.

1. Know your objective

Determine the purpose for, or objective of, your listening. For instance, you could be trying to empathize with someone, or analyze or solve problems when communicating with someone else.

Being clear about your objective will help you to be more receptive to cues in the conversation, and hence sift through all the clutter to retain only those bits that are most pertinent to you. Knowing your objective will prove invaluable in situations where the person you are conversing with either rambles, or talks about multiple topics as the same time.

2. Actively interact

While being a patient, quiet listener has traditionally been confused with being a ‘good listener’, it is important that you learn to distinguish between the two. A quiet listener may not gain complete understanding of what is being communicated to him/her, and will also fail to inspire confidence in the speaker since he/she is unsure about whether or not he/she has succeeded in capturing your attention.

Communicate your interest by asking questions, seek clarifications where required, and even feel free to disagree in case of differences in opinion. Further, when asking questions, prefer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions that require a certain amount of elaboration, as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

3. Stay focussed

Simple as it may seem, but focus is probably both the most important and most difficult of all listening skills. Listening well requires self-control and to not allow your mind to drift into random thoughts. Consider the case of a college lecture: most students accurately comprehend and retain only about half of what they hear in a 10-minute period. Therefore, students who can stay mentally engaged and focused on listening to their instructors during class stand a much better chance of learning the material presented, and accurately applying it in assignments and examinations.

One way to increase your focus is to first be clear about your objective, and subsequently the value you will gain from the interaction. In the case of a lecture, for example, tell yourself that you are going to find some nugget of valuable information or thought stimulator in what you are about to hear. Think of it as a treasure hunt, a game or a challenge, and you will automatically find it much easier to stay interested and hence, focused, on the interaction.


  1. I am glad you have brought up this aspect of communication amid all the 'noise' that surrounds it. If communication is a process the input must be either listening or thought. Yet most 'coaching' on this skill ignores this aspect.

    1. Completely agree with you. In fact this is also one of the major reasons we have a lot of average leaders but very few great ones. Most leaders though very proactive in dispensing information and knowledge, fail to imbibe any feedback (or don't bother to try and 'understand the problem').

      I guess the ability to actively participate in conversation not just by speaking but also by listening is what separates the best leaders from the average ones.