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The Power to Listen Fully

JW Way Fundamental #5: Listen Fully
“Listening is more than simply not speaking. Give others your undivided attention. Set aside your own judgments and preconceived notions. Listen with focus. Most importantly, listen to understand.” 

This is a JW Way fundamental that applies not only to work but also to life outside of work.  Listening fully is one of the greatest gifts that we can give another person.  Everyone remembers an instance when someone empathically and fully listened to them.  It is likely a very memorable moment.  Conversely, we all remember when someone ignored, dismissed, or interrupted our conversation.  As humans we are wired to remember the negative more than the positive.  Numerous studies have shown that it takes five positives to outweigh one negative.  One haphazard conversation will take 5 productive positive conversations to get back to even ground in that relationship.  The power to listen fully is completely yours.

Listening fully and active listening are skills that requires practice.  Multi-day interactive workshops are devoted to the art and skill of fully listening.  One chapter in Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is devoted to this skill – Seek to Understand before Being Understood.    There are strategies that can improve active listening. 

  • Be fully present – Don’t be thinking about whether or not a glimpse at a mobile device will be detected, internally composing a response, or simply daydreaming. 
  • Interrupting – while we all may have the desire to buzz in because we have the answer, allow the speaker to complete their thought and idea.  
  • Talking – by definition when talking, listening cannot occur.
  • Assuming that you know it all.  Sometimes what isn’t being said is the real issue.  Active listening allows you to explore ideas and concepts that may not be articulated.
  • Body language – Is it mismatched, closed, bored, distracted, ignoring, or is it engaged, high energy, open, and enthusiastic? 
  • Listening only through your filters – which may include judgments and preconceived notions.  While difficult to truly have an open mind, seek to be curious.
  • Maintain eye contact.  Not the creepy stalker kind, but strive for authentic, inviting, and warm. 
  • Empathy – With the increase of e-communications, this is an area that is especially hard hit.  It is much easier to deliver bad news electronically.  
  • Telephone conversations – The listener knows if something is being read on a screen or worse a response is being typed to an e-mail.  We’ve all been on the receiving end of one of these conversations!

Whether it is with a client, co-worker, significant other, child, friend, or an acquaintance, everyone values being fully listened to and heard.  People who spent any time with Wil Heywood had the same response – they highly valued the time that they spent with him.  Wil is a skilled and empathetic listener.

I challenge you to select an aspect of active listening that you are weak in and practice improving it for the next 28 days, which is the time it takes to create a new habit.  Up your game and ask someone to be your accountability partner to provide you with honest feedback on your listening skills and the area that you are currently working on.  While no JW fundamental is more important than another, listening fully will improve your relationships.

About the Author:  Brenda Edwards is the Executive Director of Jaburg Wilk.  She frequently writes on management topics.

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