What if I told you that you could become a better friend, partner, parent, employee, and leader, all by just changing one thing? You’d probably think I was crazy, but it’s true. Listen more, talk less and you are well on your way to more success and happiness.
Becoming a better listener has a good chance of making you happier and more successful. But this doesn’t mean that listening will completely turn your life around. If you’re miserable, maybe becoming a better listener makes you less miserable. If you are somewhat successful, maybe becoming a better listener helps get you that raise or bonus at work. An improvement nonetheless, but please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying – becoming a better listener will not give your life a 180-degree turnaround.
Compare it to learning to drive a car. Knowing what to do at a red light compared to a green light alone doesn’t make you a great driver, but it is one necessary step toward becoming a great driver. With success and happiness, the ability to listen more has the same effect. You will not immediately become happy or successful simply by listening more, but you’re more likely to head in that direction.
Don’t I Need to Assert Myself?
But wait a minute, you might say. The most powerful people in the world seem to be the ones who are always speaking. We envision successful people running corporations, presenting Ted Talks, or working the room at a party with friends. And while it’s true that those people put off an aura of power, there are two things to keep in mind.
First, many of those people we see talking have gotten to that point by listening. No, they didn’t just sit there meekly and nod their heads, but they became good, active listeners who paid attention to what someone said and had something relevant, important, or consequential to say in return. In her book, “You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters,” Kate Murphy explains that listening well is a skill that must be practiced.
Listen More to Your Friends
Every once in a while, I will walk away from a conversation with a friend and realize that they asked me a question which I answered, but I never asked one in return.
Just the other day, one of my friends asked me how remote learning was going for my kids during the Covid-19 pandemic. I explained that the kids were doing alright although they would much rather be in school, and that led us down a different path of the conversation. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I had never asked him how his son was doing.
It’s something that I have tried to improve on over the years, but it’s clearly still a work in progress.
It’s easy for us to focus on ourselves, and consequently, lose sight of truly caring about what is going on with others.
It takes a lot to be a good friend, but listening more is a great start.
Listen More to Your Partner
The argument can be made that one’s ability to listen more and better to a spouse or partner might be the most important factor in a successful relationship. Listening to your partner conveys a feeling of mutual respect, attention, and admiration. Couples that report listening well to each other also tend to have better communication and more intimacy.
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Listening more to your partner or spouse allows both of you to rejoice in the positive moments, but it also (and more importantly) allows both of you to work through the bumps in the road that will inevitably come.
Listen More to Your Kids
Wait, aren’t the kids supposed to be listening to us?
As a parent of a 5 and 7-year-old and a longtime teacher of high school students, I feel like I have a pretty decent amount of experience with various age groups of kids. While my kids want to spend all the time in the world with me and my wife, I know that teenagers are the exact opposite. But behind that facade is usually a kid who still longs for your attention no matter what their age.
Even if your teenager spends 22 hours of a Saturday in his room, he wants your attention when he is around. With a teenager, you might not be able to listen more, but instead, you’ll have to listen harder.
When we listen more to our children, we show that their feelings, opinions, and beliefs matter. We let them know that their thoughts are meaningful and that their struggles are important to us. Plus, we can learn a thing or two from our kids. Finally, by listening more, we teach our kids to be good listeners themselves, clearly an important skill.
Listen More to Your Co-Workers
What makes a strong co-worker? What makes a strong leader? Oftentimes, these characteristics are the same. You may get to the top by commanding respect through fear, intimidation, cockiness, and bravado, but you probably won’t stay there long or be successful. Strong leaders and employees don’t demand respect, they earn it. They earn it through hard work, diligence, and of course, they learn to listen more.
There is a great story about Cees ‘t Hart, the CEO and President of Carlsberg Group. When he became CEO, he was given access to a private elevator that led to his penthouse corner office. After a few weeks, he realized that he wasn’t interacting with all of the people who work for him. He wasn’t hearing them. He needed to listen more so he moved his office to an open space in the middle of the office. Hart said, “If I don’t meet people, I won’t get to know what they think. And if I don’t have a finger on the pulse of the organization, I can’t lead effectively.” That’s an effective boss.
A Path to Happiness and Success
Will listening more by itself make you happy and successful? No, but it can certainly improve your happiness and possibly make you more successful. If you would like to be a better listener, try following these steps:
- Listen for the right reasons
- Ask questions
- Realize the potential value in what others have to say
- Avoid distractions (i.e. Get off your phone!)
- Be empathetic – Put yourself in their shoes
- Maintain eye contact and an interested posture
- Enjoy the possibility of learning and understanding something new
What did I miss? What are some of your strategies to listen more? I’d love to hear in the comments below.