Perversely, the more we listen to the flood of things going on around us, the less we really listen to anything. We are overwhelmed by the roar of everything going on everywhere.  We have lost the ability to differentiate, to ignore the irrelevant, the unimportant, that which drags us away from the places we should focus.

Too many have lost the ability to really listen.

Salman Khan, founder of online education company Khan Academy, while speaking at this year’s MIT graduation was so moved by this issue that he commented “the best way to make people feel that you are listening to them is to listen to them.”

Really listening is a difficult thing to do. It requires intense focus to the exclusion of all else coupled with the willingness to keep your own mouth shut. It requires you to suspend your own frame of reference and enter the reality and way of thinking of someone else. And it requires you to slow down and pay attention to one, and only one, thing while excluding all else.

Most importantly, really listening requires you to consider that you don’t know everything and that you might be wrong in what or how you think.

It can be a sobering experience to realize how differently someone else views the world and how their reality can be so different from yours.  Since this reality shapes all that someone does, if you really listen and allow this listening to lead to understanding, often much that was confusing about the behavior of someone else becomes clear. 

We each build our own reality based on our cultural background and everything that has happened to us guided by where we’ve placed our attention. Two people often go to the same meeting and leave with totally different perceptions of what occurred depending on how they heard what was said and saw what happened.  We ignore this at our peril.

To develop clarity requires listening well: Paying attention always. Slowing down. Entering the frame of reference of others. Suspending your desire to immediately jump in and disagree. Allowing someone else to be the center of your focus.

And it takes practice, for most of you need to break years of poor listening habits. But improving your listening skill is worth all the work.

Really listening leads to understanding, new ideas and ways of thinking. It leads to solutions and diffuses problems. It improves your leadership skill and builds connection. Most importantly, it makes those you listen to feel they are important to you and their thoughts and ideas matter.

It builds commitment.

As Khan says,”the best way to make people feel that you are listening to them is to listen to them.”

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