Making Others Feel Smart

By Cheryl Viola, Executive Director & CEO, MBA

Our current world and economic state are turbulent.  Communication is more important than ever, yet we devote less and less time to truly listening. When I think of leadership skills the very first skill needed that leads to the other skills is listening.

We are surrounded by noise. We hear the sounds and we hear people speak but do we truly listen? Good listening skills are rare. Too often we hear the sound but do not concentrate on the words or messages. Our minds stop listening as we prepare in our minds a response. We are so used to white noise; I listen to the radio all the time and later I will think I listened to the radio but I couldn’t say what I heard. I couldn’t name a song I listened to or even a radio program.

Listening is more than just talking less; it is an action word. This means that the listener waits until the speaker is done speaking and then you ask clarifying questions and respond with thoughtful answers. Listening well it showing more interest in other people than trying to prove a point or be right.

In a TedTalk Julian Treasure said that we are losing our listening. We spend 60% of our time listening but we only return 25% of what we hear.

We have all had the experience where we are speaking and we know that the other person is not listening at all. How does it make you feel? It makes you feel insignificant and devalued. The greatest way to destroy a relationship is to not listen.

Conscious listening creates understanding, builds relationships, solves problems, and resolves conflicts.

1.            Face the Speaker, make and keep eye contact.

Eye contact helps you keep focus. If you struggle to keep eye contact, work on that first. Making and keeping eye contact helps the speaker feel important and that you value what they have to say. When you break eye contact, your mind will quickly wander away from what is being said, and you will stop listening.

2.            Be attentive and relaxed.

Put the phone away. Even if you put the phone face down, sit on your hands and refrain from lifting it when a message comes in. Fidgeting, bouncing the leg, strumming the fingers is not being relaxed and it does not help you stay focused on the speaker.

3.            Keep an open mind

Listen without jumping to conclusions. There is so much anger and hatred in the world today. We need to be able to listen with an open mind and be respectful even if we do not agree.

4.            Do not interrupt

When we interrupt, we are being disrespectful and we are assuming that we know what the speaker will say next. If you need to make notes to help you remember, have a pad of paper and pen with you but allow the speaker to completely finish before you ask questions.

5.            Ask questions to ensure understanding

Recently I heard that in every quote there is a lesson. Find the lesson in this quote:

Many communicators try to make themselves look smart. Great listeners are more interested in making their audiences feel smart.” Adam Grant Ph.D

The lesson in this quote is that the best way to make others feel smart is to listen to them. Active listening is an action. Pay attention to how well you listen and strive to become a better listener.