The ultimate frontier for me as a leader is learning to become a world-class listener. We hear a lot about coaching others on our teams. But know this: the most important skill is listening. Some call it Heart-Centered Listening.
In high school, college and graduate school—at every educational level—there are courses on writing and public speaking. But virtually none on listening.
Listening does not come naturally for most of us. It must be learned, valued and cultivated. Our initial reaction is to tune others out, composing in our minds what we are going to say. Then, interrupting to make our point. When we do that, our message is clear: You don’t get it, and I do. You need to be fixed and I know how.
We are addicted to words. Noise is normal. Many of you have heard me teach this simple principle: “Nothing happens until we talk to people.” So, we tell our stories. We share the product. We educate. We talk. And talk. And talk.
And, we are terrified of silence. We are compulsively, feverishly filling in the blanks when there’s the slightest pause in a conversation. We’re convinced that if we’re not talking, then nothing is really happening. For many, long pauses, silence or just listening feels very uncomfortable, empty and powerless. No wonder we’re such lousy listeners.
But listening is critical in communicating. Listening proves that we respect and care deeply about our spouses, our children and our friends. Heart-centered listening creates the space where others feel respected, worthy and empowered to give their best. Listening is foundational in building trust with another person. Not because we have a remedy for them, but because when listening, we validate someone else’s heart—their dreams, their disappointments, their sorrows and their joys. And their stories.
Heart-Centered Listening is the best way for us to communicate. And, isn’t that our real objective? Not to just talk, but to communicate?
Maybe we can worry a little less about navigating Facebook or Twitter and learn to listen. A good conversation is still the best technology.
We are listening when we:
- Patiently wait until the other person finishes speaking.
- Thoughtfully delay giving out more information.
- Consciously surrender the urge to defend our position.
- Lovingly focus on the other person.
- Respectfully put away and shut off our cell phone.
To stop what we are doing—to pause—gives another person the best gift we have: our full attention, our complete Presence. When we listen with our hearts, we are saying without any words:
- You are worth my time.
- I respect what you think.
- There’s no place I’d rather be right now than with you.
Heart-Centered Listening is a huge challenge for all of us. And, if we want to grow as a person—if we want to help the people on our teams—learning to listen must rise to the top of our personal priorities.