The importance of listening

Last year I did a lot of talking, probably at times a little too much. I did listen a lot too (honest), but did I really listen?

This article will cover off some considerations around the infamous ‘forgotten’ art of listening. This should apply to all aspects of life, your work and most importantly with the people closest to you.

Now we all love a good Winston Churchill quote,and this one resonates “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what is takes to sit down and listen”.

I am not sure that listening is necessarily a forgotten art, but perhaps more so a skill that we never really get taught the importance of. Growing up, and at school, we are told to listen for the purpose of learning. Generally speaking, the skill of listening is enforced through discipline. I’m certainly guilty of this with my children, often a case of “Kids. Quiet! You are driving me nuts. Listen to me, I am your father”. I also had a few teachers growing up that put the fear of god into me if I did not listen. Perhaps, we then naturally rebel as we grow older, and start to gradually enjoy the sound of our voices and the opportunity to talk without being reminded to actually listen.

We, and by ‘we’ I in particularly mean men, do love the sounds of our own voices. Perhaps a generalisation, but men have a habit of continuously striving for self-assertion, the ‘beating of our chests’, and have an innate lack of understanding around empathy. Empathy, I think, ties in very closely with listening. Women are on the whole far better at listening, being empathetic and appreciate empathy. I have been guilty of listening, not being empathetic and then talking without having really considered what I have just listened to. This never helps.

Yes society has greatly changed in recent years with a continuous zest for self-adulation through image, brand and narcissism which is driving so much of what so many of us want from life. However, society always will be changing. So listening will always be vital. I think that most of us are often so busy making sure that people hear what we have to say that we simply forget to listen. Then when we try to listen, we are so caught up on what we are about to say next that we listen to reply, rather than listening to understand what we are being told.

La parole est à moitié à celui qui écoute, et à moitié à celui qui parle” – translated this means, “The spoken word belongs half to him who speaks, and half to him who listens”. This proverb came from one of the most prevalent philosophers during the French Renaissance, Michel de Montaigne. As with most things in life there is always a place for balance. Listen and talk equally – the foundation of a good conversation (some people believe you should listen 70% of the time, up to you). This is all regardless of whether you are an extrovert or introvert, there is certainly an equilibrium to be found in conversing. We do all have stories to share.

Here are a few simple tips to help you prepare to listen better during your next conversation.

  • Find the desire to listen – remember everyone has something to share, just e ready and willing to listen to learn.
  • Avoid interrupting – simple rule, right? You’d think so. However, when you’re not listening you are usually interrupting. If you do accidentally interrupt, always apologise.
  • Listen with your body, not just your ears – Use your body language to help listen. Look at someone when listening. Position your body so it is open to discussion, and not closed. Be relaxed.
  • Ask questions – When someone has finished what they have to say, instead of replying, ask a question instead. If you are not clear on what they have said, ask for a clarification. It will mean they talk more, and you will really understand what they are saying. Try to always really think about what the other person is saying.

Our parents and teachers all had good intentions, honest, so remember the more you listen, the more you learn. The reward is great, for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk you will end up with a whole load wisdom. It will also fundamentally improve your relationships.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Please let me know your thoughts around the topic of listening, either positive, negative or both. Happy to listen. Also, it is always appreciated if you feel it worth sharing with your network. Don’t be shy.

Thanks for reading.


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