Posted by Steve Lettau on Aug 03, 2022

It’s the most important communication skill you were probably never taught

By Louis Greenstein

When you’re talking to someone, do you ever get the feeling that they’re busier looking for an opening in the conversation than listening to what’s being said? That if you were to stop and ask, “What was I just saying?” they’d give you a deer-in-the-headlights stare, maybe repeat a few words you spoke, but definitely fail a pop quiz on the content?

Most of us have learned some basics of public speaking: enunciate, make eye contact, repeat the most important points so they stick. But "we haven't had good teachers in terms of listening skills," says Jim Bolton, president of Ridge Training, a company that specializes in teaching communication skills to business leaders and trainers. Bolton makes a distinction between hearing and listening. True listening requires your full attention. You need to make an effort.

Failure to truly listen is a missed opportunity — not just to learn, but to deepen our rapport with others. When people feel heard and can speak without being criticized or interrupted, says Bolton, "they start to feel a deeper sense of relatedness. Even in professional relationships, it's knowing that someone has enough respect for you to set their own agenda aside and learn from you."

When you are actively listening, you get more information than you would otherwise — and not only because you're paying closer attention. "When you listen well, people share more," says Bolton. "People are more open because you are more receptive."

So how can we sharpen our active listening skills?