What Great Listening Really Means

September 8th, 2016

About 30 years ago, a manager of a manufacturing plant chastised me.  He said, “All you are doing is repeating what I said!” My intention was to make sure I understood. Yet, I was humiliated.   It hurt because it made me doubt my listening skills. From that moment on, I chose to engage clients further. I now do more than just listen and repeat. Exploring, questioning, sharing and building on their statements are my new tools.

For years we have been teaching and practicing active listening. In a recent Harvard Business Review article entitled What Great Listeners Actually Do, authors Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman share results of a new study and point out there is a lot more to it than just nodding and summarizing. These thoughts resonate with some of my own gut feelings about great listening.










Below are their excellent tips on what great listening means:

1. Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks.
To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehend it well enough to  want additional information. Good listening is consistently seen as a two-way dialogue, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.

2. Good listening includes interactions that build a person’s self-esteem.
The best listeners make the conversation a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen when the listener is passive (or, for that matter, critical!). Good listeners make the other person feel supported and conveyed confidence in them. Good listening is characterized by the creation of a safe environment in which issues and differences can be discussed openly.

3. Good listening is seen as a cooperative conversation.
In these interactions, feedback flows smoothly in both directions with neither party becoming defensive about comments the other made. By contrast, poor listeners are seen as competitive — as listening only to identify errors in reasoning or logic, using their silence as a chance to prepare their next response. That might make you an excellent debater, but it doesn’t make you a good listener. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.

4. Good listeners tend to make suggestions.

Good listening invariably includes some feedback provided in a way others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider. This finding somewhat surprised us, since it’s not uncommon to hear complaints that “So-and-so didn’t listen, he just jumped in and tried to solve the problem.” Perhaps what the data is telling us is that making suggestions is not itself the problem; it may be the skill with which those suggestions are made. Another possibility is that we’re more likely to accept suggestions from people we already think are good listeners. (Someone who is silent for the whole conversation and then jumps in with a suggestion may not be seen as credible. Someone who seems combative or critical and then tries to give advice may not be seen as trustworthy.)
Check out the entire article for more info!