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Listen Up!

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus


Listening is a skill that we're taught before we even enter Kindergarten, but I think - if we're being honest - it's a skill that few of us ever truly master. Problems with listening can be attributed to most misunderstandings and conflicts, in the work place and beyond.


Author Dean Jackson said, “Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.” Skilled listeners become skilled learners, communicators, and – ultimately – leaders! Here are my Top 5 Tips to Improve Your Listening:


  1. Make Eye Contact – Not only does eye contact while listening show you are locked in, but it also has subconscious powers – after all, it is actually an evolutionary survival skill! (Children who could maintain eye contact had the best chance of being fed and cared for.) Nowadays, the power of eye contact still holds strong! In fact, I read about an interesting study in consumer psychology which showed we are more likely to opt for a breakfast cereal box in which the brand’s mascot is making eye contact, rather than averting their gaze. Locking eyes has an incredible subliminal effect proven to make you perceived as more confident, credible, and competent!

  2. Be Present – One of my favorite authors, Stephen Covey, said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Don’t think ahead when it comes to your conversations – Be present! You can also demonstrate that you are present by blocking distractions: Set aside your phone, turn off your monitor, and remove your watch – anything that can distract you while listening and break your eye contact!

  3. Visualize – If you find yourself drifting away from being present, I resort to visualization. As humans, we can process 125-150 words per minute as they are being communicated to us, but we can form thoughts at 1,000-3,000 words per minute! Up to 20x as many! We can use this excess thought capacity to do the background work of creating visualizations to give lasting meaning to the words people are saying. The more vivid the imagery, the more likely you are to understand and grasp even the most abstract concepts. Plus, visualizing can help with memory of what you are hearing, too!

  4. Avoid Interrupting – We all know how it feels to be interrupted, but we may not even notice when we’re the one doing the interrupting. Pause and take notice – are you only talking during points of natural pauses to ask clarifying questions? We are working on active listening, not better talking.

  5. Give Positive Feedback – There are a few things you can do to affirm the speaker and let them know you are present and you are listening! A big part of this can come in the form of body language – including eye contact, but also in ensuring you are noticing your posture (uncross your arms!) and facial expressions.

I hope you can carry some of these tips forward in your one-on-one conversations, group discussions, large audience attendance, and anything else requiring your active listening skills. Improve your listening and watch your knowledge and relationships grow!

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