How to Be a World-Class Listener

Jul 28, 2020

Listening is hard work, especially in the modern day world, the age of instant communication and social media.  Distractions are constant, and our shrinking attention spans are evidence of this.  People have more things to focus on now than ever before, but often focus on things for shorter periods of time.  Resulting in a sharp decrease in the average human attention span in the past 20 years, going from an average of 12 to 8 seconds.  

Part of what makes listening so hard is it requires a great deal of attention and self-regulation.  You don’t have to say much to be a good listener, but you do have to follow the conversation and effectively interpret what is being communicated.   

Listening is a vital skill.  People can tell when they are, and are not, being listened to.  Two of the most basic human needs are to be heard and understood.  When was the last time you felt like someone really listened to you?  When is the last time you truly listened to some else?

The pressures of modern day life impede our ability to listen well.  A minor infraction or opposing view can quickly become a threat if we don’t have control of our emotions.   When we accept this about ourselves and regain control of our emotions by naming and claiming them,  we will start to see opposing viewpoints as less of a threat and more of an opportunity to listen more deeply and gain better insight into someone else’s thinking.

To be a world-class-listener you have to be curious.  Some of the best listeners are the most curious people. Quality questions are a sure advantage.  Many of us have not been trained in the art of questioning, and for that matter, our culture does not encourage it.

The American way is to rush to action.  This comes as a result of the countless things we have to focus on.  Good questions require time and energy to develop and evolve.  When we’re overtaxed, we concentrate on action at the expenses of thinking and questioning.  

Aside from that, we resist asking questions to avoid revealing what we don’t know.  Not having the answers in a culture that values solutions puts us in a place of vulnerability.  Accepting our vulnerability is the most difficult part of becoming a world-class-listener.  However, contrary to popular belief, vulnerability is empowering and gives others the chance to listen to us.  

No one can listen all the time.  Listening is an active, demanding activity.  Not only does it require being attentive when others are speaking it also requires being present enough to absorb the subtle, nonverbal cues of the person(s) listening.

World-class-listeners know themselves well – their traits, feelings, and behaviors. Self-knowledge forms the basis of what we know as empathy.  Without understanding ourselves,, we can’t understand or experience the feelings and thoughts of others.  And the best way to make others feel heard and understood is through empathy.  

When people feel like their concerns are being heard and understood, it incites a certain level of trust.  The more trust between people the less drama and miscommunication.  

It may be hard to be a world-class-listener in the modern world, but the benefits are huge.  By embracing our natural curiosity, avoiding assumptions, and asking carefully constructed questions, you can be an extraordinary listener and benefit yourself and everyone around you.