Listen completely

The secrets of successful listening

“When people talk, listen completely.” Those words of Ernest Hemingway might be a pretty good guiding principle for many managers, as might the dictum enunciated by Zeno of Citium, a Greek philosopher: “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” For people like being listened to.

Some firms use a technique known as a “listening circle” in which participants are encouraged to talk openly and honestly about the issues they face (such as problems with colleagues).

In such a circle, only one person can talk at a time and there is no interruption. A study cited in the Harvard Business Review found that employees who had taken part in a listening circle subsequently suffered less social anxiety and had fewer worries about work-related matters than those who did not.

Being a good listener, like any skill, takes practice.

Ex-hostage negotiator and founder of the Listening Institute, Richard Mullender, defines listening as “the identification, selection and interpretation of the key words that turn information into intelligence.”

To put it simply, we listen so we can understand what the speaker is trying to accomplish.

As we muddle our way through the pandemic, lockdowns and (for some of us) working from home, listening can be a valuable tool. 

Here are some tricks Mullender shared with The Economist to becoming a better listener:

  • Pay attention and avoid distraction 
  • Know when to keep quiet
  • When possible, listen on your phone, as it can often be easier to focus and listen when you can’t see someone
  • Analysis is key to determining the “facts, emotions and indications of the interlocutor’s values.”

Zeno of Citrim a Greek philosopher advised ‘We have two ears and one mouth so we should listen more than we say’.