Listening is the most important skill you can ever develop. Listening is key to mutual understanding, which forms the basis for successful relationships. When sincere understanding and caring are present in any relationship, it transcends that relationship above the daily transactions which may occur.
Disagreements and other issues which may end a less stable relationship become almost trivial when two people share an understanding of what lies in the heart and mind of the other. In any relationship, you will never always share agreement. But you must always strive to share understanding. This is why it is crucial for you to learn to listen to all people you encounter and relate to in your life.
Effective listening is described here as a skill, but in reality, it is a simple habit of communication. Like language itself, it becomes second nature. There are three simple steps to effective listening:
1. Put your personal agenda aside. This is the most common obstacle to effective listening. Here’s my point: have you ever sat through a conversation with another person, and as they were speaking to you, you went “ahuh,” and nodded, all along thinking in your own mind how you would respond? How can this be avoided? It’s very simple. When you attend such an interview, or when another person asks for your attention, you need to consciously command yourself, “Okay, I know I have other things on my mind right now. But this person has something important to share and discuss, and so I will have to come back to those other things a little later.”Once you get the hang of it, it really IS as simple as it sounds. It just takes practice.
2. Maintain undivided attention. You should not be distracted. Further, you must show sincerity—that you want to listen and understand. This means providing regular eye contact, and establishing a clear connection with the other person. Your temperament and body language must be inviting. If you become distracted, and you miss what the other is saying, simply ask them to back up and repeat it for your own clarification. There is nothing wrong with this. As you hear the other point of view, place yourself in it. Imagine their situation, imagine that you were them. This is a powerful exercise in gaining a true understanding of another human being–and an important step in making a connection and building relationships.
3. As you listen, feel free to converse. By all means, converse. But do so with the intent of clarifying your own understanding, rather than attempting to get your own point across. In other words, you must repeat what the other is sharing with you back, so that you may internalize the other’s viewpoint in your own mind, thus increasing your own understanding, and reaffirm to them your understanding of what he or she is trying to share with you.
Through this process, you enhance your communication, and allow less chance for mix-ups. More importantly, you give the other person respect and validation. There is perhaps nothing better to nurture a relationship than a sense of shared understanding.
Yes, believe it or not, your opinion matters! However, just as others deserve your undivided attention, you deserve to have theirs. Indeed, when you have demonstrated that you understand the other’s position and have shown genuine empathy, other people will be better able to open themselves to what you have to say, whether it is a point of disagreement, concern, or affirmation.
How important is this to you, especially if you have a different perspective? Indeed, your expressed understanding of the other’s perspective first, will actually give more credibility to your own point of view.
An earlier version of this piece was previously published on Market Leadership Journal.