I have a huge confession to make: I don’t read nearly as many books as I should. Lucky for me, I still learn a lot every day because the work I do allows me to talk (and listen!) to people from all kinds of professions in a myriad of industries around the globe. To be frank, I’ve probably learned more from listening than any other activity or effort I’ve ever done in my life. What I’ve discovered is that the more you listen—really, listen to another person—the more you learn about them, about the world around you, and about yourself. So here are some highlights of the benefits of becoming a really great listener.
Four Benefits of Improving Your Listening Skills
1. Better Listeners Get Smarter
You learn a lot about different businesses and different functions and different roles and locations. You learn about cultures and you learn about how things work. I could share with you aspects about the global supply chain right now that would make me sound like an industry expert, simply because I’ve spent so much time talking to so many different people that touch that aspect of the economy. I’ve learned all kids of facts and information that I was clueless about until I started asking people in this sector more questions—and then I listened!
2. Better Listeners Gain Wisdom
We all have our assumptions on how things work. If X happens, then Y will be the result. But when you truly listen and ask the other person questions about what you’ve heard, you test your assumptions and gain better understanding. Sometimes you’re not right. Or sometimes what you think about how people perceive the world or how it operates is different from what you thought it was. You’re able to change your perspective. You can learn what it’s like to live in different parts of the world, or have different kinds of lives, and that moves us easily into benefit number three.
3. Better Listeners Grow Their EQ
When you test your assumptions through listening, you may discover that not everybody holds the same beliefs as you. You begin to see that different things are important to different people, and that’s OK. It reminds you that your perspective is an important one, but not the only one. It affirms the notion that there are other approaches to life that are neither better nor worse than yours, just different. Doing this allows you to walk with people as they go through difficult events in their lives. As you learn what those challenges are, you can sit with them and help them overcome those issues.
4. Better Listeners Build Better Relationships
As a great listener, you learn more about others which creates better connections and allows you to foster a deeper understanding of them. This no doubt results in stronger relationships with others, both professional and personal. That’s because as a great listener, you’re able to help others feel cared for, heard and understood. And who doesn’t want that?
Becoming a Better Listener Requires Curiosity
You’re probably saying, “Brandon, I want to be smarter, wiser and have better relationships, what can I do to become a better listener?” My first bit of advice? Get curious. That’s the simple and easiest first step for any good listener. Find something you’re genuinely curious about, and ask people about it. Perhaps you’re curious about their profession, you want to know what it’s like to be a nurse or an architect or an engineer. Or maybe you’re really curious about where people go on vacation. Just find something you’re genuinely curious about and inquire!
Ask Another Question!
Next, when you’re talking to someone, don’t stop with the first question. Great listeners don’t ask one question, say “Well, that’s interesting work, good for you,” and then stop. Great listeners always ask follow-up questions because when someone gives an answer to a question, they’ve just provided information to ask more questions about! So, if someone tells you they’re excited about their vacation in Aruba this summer, a great listener will continue to go down that path. “What is it about Aruba that you’re excited about?” “Have you ever been to Aruba before?” “Who’s going with you on the trip?” “How long are you going for?” There are so many follow-up questions to ask. And, when you ask them, you’ll learn more about the place they’re going as well as the values and interests of the person you’re talking to.
Echo Thoughts and Feelings
And finally, this comes straight out of the therapist playbook: Paraphrase to the person you’re talking to what you heard them say. Great listeners can paraphrase back facts—“It sounds like what I’m hearing from you is the global supply chain will turn around in second quarter.” And, they can also paraphrase the feelings of the speaker: “Wow, it sounds really stressful to have those challenges at home and at work right now.” Why paraphrase you ask? Doing so not only helps you confirm what you’re hearing is accurate, but it also makes the other person feel validated and respected. We paraphrase to allow the other person to confirm we’ve heard them correctly or to correct our understanding if we’re off base.
There you have it. I’m here to tell you that you can be smarter, wiser, grow your empathy and have more meaningful relationships simply by being a better listener. All it requires is getting curious and asking one question…and then another…and another! Soon you’ll learn more about the world and people around you and be known as someone who invests time and energy into building rapport and relationship with others.