Listening is identified as one of Matter’s top soft skills linked to performance and career success. Contrary to popular belief, soft skills like listening can also be learned and developed just like any hard skills. Matter helps professionals tease out blindspots and areas for growth in skills like listening through regular peer-to-peer feedback.

What Is Listening

Definition of Listening: Attends to the speaker in a way that displays interest and enthusiasm.

Knowing how to convey your ideas is only half the battle of effective communication. The other half is listening. In general, teams perform better and customers are happier when they feel that their feedback is heard and respected. Great leaders always lean in and listen before jumping to conclusions. They demonstrate attentiveness, care, and eagerness when listening to their teams and customers.

Great Listeners You May Know

Kelly Clarkson: Prior to launching her own talk show on NBC, the American singer and songwriter openly admitted on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that she still needed more practice when it came to listening to her guests. “I do need to learn. How do I listen? I was not good at listening. I just don’t shut up,” Clarkson confessed to DeGeneres. As a host, Clarkson wanted to show her guests that she values their time by listening to them. Today, The Kelly Clarkson Show has hosted guests like Dwayne Johnson, Lady Gaga, Steve Careel, Jessica Alba, and Jay Leno.

Simon Sinek: British-American author and speaker is known for his TED Talk on how leaders can inspire action. Sinek encourages leaders to always start a decision or assumption with the premise of ‘why.’ To better understand “people’s motives and purposes,” leaders need to make a conscious effort to listen more than they talk. Sinek also emphasizes that leaders must practice restraint and remain neutral when listening, “If you agree with somebody, don’t nod yes. If you disagree with somebody, don’t nod no. It sounds easy, it’s not. Practice being the last to speak.”

Susan Wojcicki: As Wojcicki moved up the ranks at Youtube, she learned that her role as CEO was more than just leading. Wojcicki describes a leader’s “job is to hear what’s not working so you can make it better.” On top of overseeing the growth of Youtube to 1.5 billion users, Wojcicki is leading a team of over a thousand employees across the world. Wojcicki understands that great leaders should spend more time outside the boardroom to better understand the needs of their customers and teams.

Why Listening Is Important

  • Better Decision Making: Listening is not just about being nice. It has a direct impact to the bottom line. By listening, leaders make better informed decisions based on all the information presented.
  • Interpersonal Relationships: Actively listening to feedback and concerns shows your teams that you care about what they have to say. When people feel heard and respected, they’re more motivated and collaborative.
  • Conflict Resolution: By paying attention and asking follow-up questions, you show your peers that you are invested in hearing out their feedback and willing to make changes.

What Listening Isn’t About

  • Jumping Into Conclusions: Great listeners pause often and ask follow-up questions. They always assume positive intent and probe for clarity.
  • Being Defensive: If you’re thinking of a witty response to someone’s feedback, then you’re not being an effective listener.
  • Faking It: Listening must come from a place of patience, empathy, and understanding. It should never be used to give someone a false belief that you care about them when you don’t.

Abilities That Lead To The Mastery of Listening

Asking Open-ended Questions: Open-ended questions are those that can’t be answered with a ”yes” or ”no.” They generate discussion and yield insight. By asking open-ended questions, you avoid making assumptions and get far more interesting insights.

Being attentive: When you are attentive, you communicate that you are interested in what the other person has to say. Maintain eye contact, nod, and mirror the speaker’s body language.

Having an open mind: When we are open to ideas, we are more willing to consider creative, innovative, or novel approaches. We are also more open to feedback on our own performance and the ways in which we can improve in the future. People who are open-minded tend to be more self-aware, trusted by their peers, and interested in developing their skills.

Listening patiently: Research suggests that patient people make more progress toward their goals compared to less patient people. When a person is speaking, focus on what they are saying rather than on what you are going to say next and avoid interrupting.

Paraphrasing: Paraphrasing is a listening and reflecting tool where you restate what others say in your own words. Paraphrasing shows not only that you are listening, but that you are attempting to understand what the speaker is saying.

Responding non-verbally: When we interact with others, we continuously give and receive wordless signals. The way you listen, look, move, and react tells the other person whether or not you care if you’re being truthful, and how well you’re listening.

Retaining information: Research reveals that people only retain 25-50% of what they hear. It’s possible to maintain eye contact and nod at the appropriate times and yet, not be fully engaged. Instead of thinking of your response, concentrate on what the other person is trying to tell you.

Seeking clarification: If you don’t understand what your peer is saying, seek clarification to avoid misunderstanding. Seeking clarification also communicates that you are committed to understanding what they are saying to you.

Explore Roles That Benefit From Listening

Who can benefit from practicing listening skills? Matter is helping professionals at all levels get actionable feedback to improve their listening.

  • CEOs who are looking to become better leaders and cultivate company culture
  • Designers who want to grow their professional and soft skills
  • Freelancers who work without a traditional team and want feedback
  • Project Managers looking to improve their cross-functional collaboration skills
  • Software Engineers who aspire to become a tech lead or manager

Explore Complementary Skills to Listening

Listening shouldn’t be practiced in a vacuum. Improve your listening skills by exploring and developing these complementary skills.

  • Communication: Clearly conveys information to others (written or verbal)
  • Leadership: Leads, motivates, and inspires your team and/or company
  • Inclusiveness: Creates an environment that values individual and group differences Influence: Convinces others to listen and do things that positively impact the team or company
  • Influence: Convinces others to listen and do things that positively impact the team or company
  • User Research: Uses investigative methods to understand and empathize with customers

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