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Some time ago, I had an experience working with someone who never seemed to listen when I spoke to him. Whenever I went to his office and tried to explain an issue I needed help with, he would be busy with his computer or phone, not paying attention. It was frustrating. Finally, I would ask him directly, “So, can you help me with that?” Only then would he stop what he was doing and turn to me, asking me to repeat myself.

Can you imagine how that made me feel? I felt small and unimportant in his eyes. It made me hesitate to approach him for help because I didn’t want to go through that experience again. Our teamwork suffered because of it. Instead of bringing us closer, it created a divide between us. I even reached a point where I actively avoided talking to him. As a funny side note, I frequently overheard him complaining, “I don’t understand why nobody tells me anything around here.”

This experience showed me how crucial it is to listen and be fully present when someone is speaking to you. It’s not just about passively hearing the words; it’s about actively seeking to understand and appreciate what the other person is saying. Genuine listening is a valuable skill that often goes unnoticed in our fast-paced world, where we’re often preoccupied with self-promotion or too distracted to pay attention. However, when we truly listen to others, we validate their experiences, emotions, and perspectives. We show them respect, empathy, and a sincere interest in their overall well-being.

Listening requires us to be fully present and engaged. It means giving our complete attention, setting aside judgment, and making an effort to understand the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of the person speaking. As Kate Murphy beautifully puts it in her book You’re Not Listening, “Listening is about the experience of being experienced.”

Dale Carnegie, a famous author and speaker on human relations, understood the profound impact of listening on our relationships. He famously said, “You can make more friends in two months by showing interest in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Genuine curiosity and active listening can truly transform relationships. By shifting our focus from ourselves to the other person, we create an environment where authentic connections, empathy, and understanding can flourish.

Listening Trumps Brilliance

Let’s look at the story of Lady Randolph Churchill, a remarkable woman known for her beauty, intelligence, and wit. There was a time when she found herself in the company of two influential political figures: Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. While Gladstone expressed his own ideas, Disraeli took a different approach. He listened intently, asked thoughtful questions, and genuinely valued Lady Randolph’s perspective.

As the conversation unfolded, Lady Randolph couldn’t help but notice a striking contrast between the two Prime Ministers. While Gladstone was undoubtedly intelligent, it was Disraeli’s attentiveness that made her feel important and respected. Looking back on the experience, she expressed, “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli, I left feeling that I was the cleverest woman.”

This story highlights Disraeli’s exceptional conversational skills. By genuinely showing interest and creating an environment where Lady Randolph felt valued, he left a profound impact. Disraeli had mastered the art of understanding others, engaging in meaningful conversations, and making individuals feel important. In the words of John Maxwell in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Enhancing Listening Skills: Three Key Principles

We all can take practical steps to improve our listening skills. Start by putting away your phone and eliminating distractions. It’s important to maintain eye contact with the speaker to show them that you’re fully engaged and interested. Using verbal cues, such as nodding or making encouraging sounds, can demonstrate your active participation. Asking thoughtful questions or reflecting on what the person is saying shows empathy and understanding. Most importantly, try to resist the urge to immediately formulate a response while the person is speaking. Instead, focus on truly hearing and understanding their perspective.

But here’s something interesting. Those practical tips are actually natural byproducts of something more essential: curiosity. When you’re genuinely curious about what the speaker has to say, you naturally pay attention, ask questions, and maintain eye contact. Curiosity is the key to becoming a better listener. So, to enhance your listening skills, embrace these three important principles that tap into your innate curiosity:

Bring out the Interesting Side of Others: When you’re in a conversation, let your curiosity shine. Understand that everyone has fascinating and unique qualities, and it’s up to you to uncover their interesting side. Approach conversations with genuine interest, ask questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer, and actively listen to discover captivating aspects of their experiences and perspectives.

Understand the Meaning in Their Life’s Story: While practicing active listening, take a moment to think about why the person is sharing their thoughts with you. What does this information mean to their life’s story? By reflecting on the personal importance behind their words, you open yourself up to a deeper understanding of their experiences, emotions, and viewpoints. This introspective approach allows you to develop empathy as you connect with the speaker on a more profound level, recognizing that their communication reflects their unique journey.

Give Room for Expression: Avoid making assumptions and give people the freedom to fully express themselves. Don’t interrupt, finish their sentences, or judge prematurely. Allow them the space to express their thoughts and experiences in their own way. By doing so, you create an environment that nurtures genuine understanding, respect, and meaningful connections with others.

Listening as an Act of Kindness

A while back, I was assigned to display one of our military vehicles at a public event. Our goal was to give potential recruits a chance to see and experience the equipment we use. While setting up, we were fortunate to meet many veterans, each with incredible stories to tell. They shared tales of their experiences with the military vehicles of their generations such as Jeeps and Humvees. One man shared a story that grabbed everyone’s attention about a mission he had conducted with his platoon many years ago.

Realizing the importance of these personal stories, I gathered my team and shared with them the importance of effective listening. I encouraged them to fully engage with the stories being shared, giving these men and women the opportunity to express themselves. These stories had powerful meaning to the men and women sharing them. By listening with genuine care and understanding, we created a space where these veterans felt acknowledged, listened to, and valued. It showed how listening itself can be an act of kindness.

Listening with kindness, empathy, and a true desire to connect is a powerful thing. When we open our hearts and truly listen to others, we validate their experiences, emotions, and viewpoints. We foster understanding and create stronger, more meaningful connections. There’s real strength in listening with kindness. It’s through this act that we build genuine connections and cultivate empathy.

Carnegie, D., Carnegie, D. D., & Thomas, L. (2022). How to win friends and influence people: updated for the next generation of leaders (Revised edition). Simon & Schuster.
Murphy, K. (2020). You’re not listening: what you’re missing and why it matters (First edition). Celadon Books.
Maxwell, J. C. (1998). The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership: follow them and people will follow you. Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Nicholas Cardot

The transformation begins with you. Develop the leader inside you and become the driving influence your community is looking for.

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