Truly listening the key to effective communication

Marcus Straub
Marcus Straub

Successful relationships, whether in business or life, depend on the ability of those involved to effectively communicate. The reality, however, is most of us aren’t taught how to communicate with the intention of understanding, building relationships and creating solutions. In business, not listening effectively to others not only causes dysfunction, but also can mean the difference between success and failure.

Ineffective communication presents a big obstacle to any successful relationship, and it all begins with listening. Not truly listening to others often lies at the heart of dysfunctional businesses, disgruntled team members, unsatisfied clients as well as failed marriages, disassociation with loved ones, frustration and anger.

Consider your life and relationships to better understand the importance of communication. In those relationships you find most successful and fulfilling, you feel heard and understood. Communication is more effective than not. When you consider relationships that are the most unsettling and cause the most frustration and  dissatisfaction, you likely don’t feel heard. Communication is so limited the relationship suffers as a result.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself: Do you like it when others truly listen to you? Do you feel respected, acknowledged and valued when others really listen to what you’re saying? Do you have greater rapport and trust with those who actually listen to you?  In other words, do you like it when others care enough to be present with you in their listening?

Are you listening to others the way you want them to listen to you? If not, why not?

Several sabotaging behaviors, or blockers, limit our listening abilities. These include:

  • Advising: You believe you have the answer to the other person’s situation and offer advice rather than truly listen.
  • Multitasking: You fail to pay attention to the person talking as you split your time and attention between two or more things.
  • Judging: You prejudge the person with whom you’re communicating and use negative labels to do so.
  • Rehearsing: You focus your attention on preparing what you’ll say next.
  • Placating: You agree with everything to get along or be liked or because you aren’t truly listening.
  • Sparring: You look for things with which to disagree.
  • Identifying: You use the stories of others as a reference point to tell your own at the expense of theirs.
  • Being right: You focus on arranging information, saying things or acting in ways so as to not be wrong.
  • Dreaming or drifting: Your attention is on anything other than the conversation, like the vacation you want to take, the things you need to get done or an unresolved issue in your life.
  • Derailing: You derail the train of conversation with sudden changes to the topic or make jokes as you become bored or uncomfortable.

Do you engage in any of these listening blocks? All of them? Some of them? Not sure?

Participants in my communication trainings are astounded to learn how much they unknowingly sabotage their professional and personal relationships by not listening. Reversing this and becoming someone who listens with integrity — listening to others the way you want them to listen to you — is simple once you’re taught how.

Listening effectively to others is often the most fundamental and powerful communication tool of all. The first step to improvement is to have a good understanding of what you can do or stop doing to get better. From there, the ill effects of your ineffective listening are all but eliminated. Interactions become more successful and pleasant as you learn to stop talking or thinking and develop the habit of truly listening to others.

Educator and author Stephen R. Covey once said most people don’t listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply. Yet, the truth is, we all want to be heard and understood.

Building the powerful habit of truly listening is the first step in becoming an effective communicator and building more successful professional and personal relationships. If you’re endeavoring to build a successful business or increase the effectiveness of your team, begin with the foundational competency of listening.