In 2009, Philadelphia reporter and editor Ronnie Polaneczky put to bed a story on how a grieving mother dealt with the pain of her son’s death. It was a good story about overcoming a tragedy and how a mother turned to helping others. Yet not everyone liked it.

Another mother who also lost her son tragically didn’t care for the reporting. She phoned Polaneczky and told the reporter of her contempt for the story. For her, she couldn’t understand why one mother’s grief was greater than hers. What made one mother’s story worthy of publication? Why not cover them all?

Of course, it’s impossible for a reporter to cover every murder or death in a city. Yet the incident gave Polaneczky an epiphany. The mother wanted to be heard, to know someone cared. That someone listened.

So Polaneczky listened, really listened.

[Listening] has changed every one of my relationships. And I think it could change the world.

– Ronnie Polaneczky, reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer

Listening is a critical skill for a journalist. It’s a reporter’s stock and trade. To get the scoop, you need to be a good listener. However, reporters are still human and aren’t always good at hearing what someone is actually saying.

The incident with the other mother humbled Polaneczky and allowed her to learn the power of deliberate listening, as she further discusses in her TEDx.

Reporter Ronnie Polaneczky discusses the power of deliberate listening in her TEDx (Credit: YouTube)

Let’s breakdown how you can become a more deliberate listener.

Abdicate Your Need to Be Right All The Time

Scroll through your social media and you’ll find a lot of people who are more concerned with being right than begin correct. One therapist theorizes our need to be right is an outcome of our competitive culture.

As a result, our egos won’t allow us to admit when we’re wrong. Of course, this theory doesn’t hold true in every situation. However, the need to be right can stymie the ability to listen. If you’re too busy trying to prove your rightness, you aren’t really hearing what the other person is saying.

Here’s how you can overcome the knee-jerk need to be right:

  • Keep judgement out of the conversation. If you’re judging what a person is saying, that’s the same as shoving fingers in your ears. You’ll be too focused on the words rather than the delivery or the tone, which provides better insight into the other person’s actual message.
  • Find common ground. You’re not going to agree with everyone. That doesn’t mean you have to be combative. You don’t always need to have the higher ground. Meet someone in the middle and figure out what you do have in common.
  • Say less, listen more. This seems simple enough yet might be the hardest to practice. Conversations are two-way streets by their very nature. Someone says something, we feel compelled to respond. However, step back and let a person talk until they don’t. Try not to interrupt or interject as much. Watch their body language for clues as when it’s best to chime in.

Be Okay With the Unknowns

The need to be right may come from our fears of being wrong. And that’s tied to our fear of failure, which can manifest as imposter syndrome. We fear if we’re wrong and don’t have the answers, we’ll be found out and shown the door.

Listening allows you to better adopt a growth mindset and see unknowns as opportunities to improve. (Photo Credit: The Philadelphia Citizen)
Listening allows you to better adopt a growth mindset and see unknowns as opportunities to improve. (Photo Credit: The Philadelphia Citizen)

To overcome this, you can adopt a growth mindset. This is where you see mistakes not as failures but as opportunities to learn and grow. You open yourself up to feedback, where challenges and unknowns are things to overcome rather than hold you down.

Here are a few tips to cultivating a growth mindset:

  • Stay curious. Keeping an open-mind is key to a growth mindset. Staying curious helps you be open-minded as you’re always willing to learn new things. And research shows that open-mindedness might even make you happier.
  • Admit you don’t have all the answers. If you think you’ve got all the answers, you’ll be less-inclined to hear feedback and listen to your peers. So it behooves you not to be the office know-it-all. You’ll also be more open-minded to hear potentially better ideas from your colleagues.
  • Seek feedback. One way to continually grow is to actively seek feedback from your peers. You don’t have to wait for a 360 review to do so. You can do it in small ways by asking for advice or critique on your work during the week. This is also good practice for your listening skills.

Make a Connection Through Listening

Listening allows you to make a real connection with your peers. After all, we’re social creatures who crave the company of others. Having interpersonal skills is critical to your workplace success.

If you can communicate and collaborate effectively, you’ll build a stronger bond with your colleagues. Think about it this way: no one wants to work with someone that’s stubborn, thinks they’re always right, and doesn’t listen.

Here’s how listening helps you connect with your peers and others:

  • Showing empathy. Actually listen to what others are saying, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Having sincere interest rather than faking it goes a long way to developing your empathy skills.
  • Letting others have their say. By listening, you’ll actually be giving way for others to express themselves, especially if those peers are often marginalized at work. This will further cement a culture of inclusiveness. No one will feel left out and everyone will feel part of the team.
  • Everyone has each other’s back. The simple act of listening helps others feel supported and valued. Supportiveness shows you care about your peers beyond the tasks they perform. You’ll also find that others will be more apt to help you when you need it the most.
There's more potential in our communication when we give up a little bit of our right to express ourselves so we can hear what the other person is saying.

Reporter Polaneczky’s life and work was transformed by the power of deliberate listening. You too can become a more deliberate listener. All it takes is starting to say a little less, so we can hear more.


Matter: The Future of Feedback

Matter helps professionals become the best version of themselves. We believe everyone can achieve mastery, learn, grow, and be respected by their peers. People perform better when they receive monthly peer feedback (proven by science too!).

Matter makes 360-degree feedback easier, pleasant, and more productive. Grow over professional and soft skills like body language, inclusiveness, storytelling, and empathy. Level up and take charge of your career with Matter.

Cover Photo Credit: Creative Morning