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Why Listening May Be Today's Most Underrated Skill
In the motivational world, a lot of thought is given to how, when and why we should talk. We’re told to express ourselves, to externalise our inner thoughts and feelings, and to explain ourselves more readily and more unashamedly.
And there’s good reason for this. Timidity isn’t a success trait, and in a world full of so much noise, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
The mistake lies in thinking that the opposite of speaking is listening.
In fact, more often than not, people who stay quiet in meetings aren’t actually paying all that much attention to what’s going on — it’s difficult to hear the world around you when your mental space is fully occupied by regrets, frustrations and self-recrimination.
Image credit: Flickr
Listening, really listening, only begins with the absence of speech, and it requires just as much self-determination and resolve as speaking out. Here’s why listening may be the most underrated skill you can possess in today’s world:
Misunderstandings Waste So Much Effort
Today’s world is more competitive than ever before. As a result of population growth and leaps in technology, the pace of daily life has quickened enormously. Everything needs to be done right away or you risk falling behind — or at least that’s what you’re expected to think.
The problem with this approach is that it prioritizes progress above all things, regardless of the exact nature of said progress, and sometimes progress isn’t the good kind but the damaging two-steps-back kind.
Imagine this workplace scenario:
- You’re given an important task to do.
- Eager to get started and work through it, you attack it with enthusiasm.
- Once finished, you submit your work.
- You discover that you misheard the task to begin with and must start all over again.
While it’s generally slower to get started if you genuinely and carefully listen to your instructions, you don’t run the risk of wasting a lot of time producing work that won’t be fit for purpose. How much workplace inefficiency would be eradicated if worker always fully understood managerial expectations?
Perspective is Invaluable
I’ve spent my entire life hearing my own thoughts and opinions on any matters I’m introduced to. In the marketplace of ideas that is my mind, my inner monologue longs to forge a monopoly, and monopolies don’t produce innovation. They stagnate. Old ideas become set in stone, and any fresh ideas that somehow appear are rejected as foreign threats.
This self-obsession is exceptionally dangerous. It is only by learning new things (for which we must learn how to listen to them) that we can usefully develop our opinions, thoughts and stances on minor and major issues alike. Instead of being protective of our ideas, coddling them, wrapping them in protective bubbles to keep them from harm, we must pit them against fresh competitors — any opinion that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny is not worth keeping.
Just think how much we can learn from each other; how much knowledge is out there just waiting to be passed along to someone, anyone, who’ll listen. Open up your ears and you open up your world.
Meaningful Empathy Isn’t Easy
Perhaps you’ve heard of the neologism sonder — a word for the deep, painfully-existential feeling of meaningfully recognising that every other person in existence has a story just as rich and wide-reaching as yours, replete with dreams, frustrations, anguishes, sorrows and joys no more or less significant in the grand scheme of things than your own.
When sonder strikes, you’re forced to confront just how shallow much of what we consider empathy really is. We like to think that we can build a good idea of what it’s like to be someone else from a fairly basic outline, but we really can’t. It takes time and effort to understand someone well. Even a lifetime of listening isn’t enough to know someone completely.
And empathy isn’t just important for endearing yourself to others. It’s also extremely valuable for improving communication. Different types of people like to be spoken to in different ways, using different tones and styles. Listen to someone, understand them, and you can enormously increase the efficiency of your exchanges.
Mental Stillness Builds Clarity and Discipline
Since it isn’t possible to properly listen with a head full of thoughts, learning how to listen teaches you to calm down, take your time, and quiet your inner voice. Your inner voice is just as likely to speak for your appetite or anger as it is to be a representative of your rational abilities, and keeping it in check is no bad thing. That stillness helps you to relax, absorb new information and address new situations on an even keel.
It isn’t easy to achieve a consistently-calm mental state. It takes time, a determination to change your habits, and the will to resist the temptation to get heated whenever a situation isn’t going the way you want it to. But it’s entirely within your grasp, and you don’t have to start from scratch — there are articles like this one, self-improvement podcasts like The Optimized Geek or The Mindful Kind (yes, you can listen to learn about listening!), and numerous books like Just Listen or Time to Think.
However you go about it, it’s worth the effort. In both professional and personal contexts, having the ability to maintain your composure in stressful situations is very valuable. Listen calmly, and when you do talk, you will be in a position to add something significant to the ongoing discussion — and your words will carry more weight when it’s clear to everyone else that you’re recognising the value of all contributions.
Listening benefits absolutely everyone
Listening is something you do for yourself and others. It benefits everyone.
If everyone in the world knew how to properly listen to someone else — not relying on assumptions, not twisting what they say, not telling them what to think — then society would be a lot more peaceful.
For this reason, and all the others we’ve looked at, listening is the most underrated skill there is. The best thing we can do is make an effort to talk (and listen!) about it much more commonly. We might just find that we’re so much smarter learning from each other than we are alone.
About the Author
Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to giving through growth hacking. Visit the blog for your latest dose of startup, entrepreneur, and charity insights from top experts around the globe.
Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.