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Daily Leadership Thought #89 – Listen Until It Hurts

February 4, 2011

Free Man in Blue Polo Shirt Sitting on Blue Couch Stock Photo

I forget where I first heard it, but I was profoundly struck when someone told me to listen util it hurts.

Have you ever noticed that when you meet someone who is a good listener it is a unique encounter?  In fact, the experience is so rare that when it happens you can’t help but acknowledge it and be attracted to the other person.  Most of us, and I’ll put myself in this category, are usually preparing to talk not listen.  We are thinking about what we are going to say before the other person has even finished what they want or need to say.  Sadly, we usually know what we are going to say before they are even halfway through their thought.  Duplicate this mindset with the other party to the conversation and you can see why there is so much confusion and misunderstanding in the world.

When you are a leader or manager part of your job is to listen until it hurts.  You need to force yourself to pay full attention to what the other person is saying and then ask clarifying questions to make sure you fully understand them.  It is also critical that you pay attention not just to what is being said, but also to the body language and tone of voice.  Both provide clues as to what is important to that person.  True listening is a skill and requires practice, commitment, and hard work.  It also is becoming increasingly difficult in this fast paced, technology driven, attention deficit inducing world.

Too much valuable information is missed in everyday conversation.  Ironically, this is especially true with verbal people who tend to talk instinctively rather than listen.  When people don’t feel heard they give up on the conversation and look for an exit cue (either passively or aggressively).   We’ve all been impressed many times by others who although not known as great communicators suddenly inject some profound wisdom into a situation.  Their wisdom was always there, they were just waiting for the opportunity to talk and for someone else to listen.  The loudest people are rarely the brightest.  They just naturally demand the most attention.  Just imagine how much value is lost every day due to our inability to listen well, failing to ask good questions, and not thinking about what’s already been said before talking.