The Business Value of Being a Great Listener

In personal relationships, most people realize the benefits of being a great listener and aspire to fit into this category. But the value of listening well translates to business as well.

Not long ago, I was intrigued to see a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “What Great Listeners Actually Do.” When a manager or advisor is a great listener, the article suggests, it helps to engender other people’s trust. People come to great listeners and really value their presence.

Unfortunately, reports HBR, many people believe they are good listeners, because they think there are simple rules to follow such as: stay silent while someone else is talking, nod to indicate your engagement, and be able to repeat whatever the person said to you. But, in fact, those are not the truest signs of a good listener and do not reassure the speaker that you’re actually listening or processing what they’re saying. So, if these aren’t qualities of a good listener, what are? Here are the four traits that HBR writers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman highlight.

Ask questions

Don’t be silent while someone else is telling you about something. While constantly interrupting isn’t good either, there needs to be a solid balance between the two. Instead of being completely silent, periodically ask questions. This habit shows you’re engaged in what they’re saying and processing it enough to ask thoughtful questions because you want an even deeper understanding of the situation.

Convey confidence and support

People know another person is listening to them when that person makes them feel “supported,” says HBR.  To remain silent might signal to the speaker that you doubt the importance of what they’re telling you. Even worse, if you pipe up too often with criticism, critical then it can discourage people from sharing information and ideas with you because they think you’ll just shoot them down. The HBR article suggests when you craft an environment that welcomes the others’ thoughts, you let people know that you’re willing to find meaningful aspects of their contributions.

Establish a conversation

By asking questions and occasionally giving your input, you can develop a cooperative conversation where both parties respect one another and know the other person is there for them. It’s also important to offer feedback, even though we often hear people complain about others not listening to them, because they instead immediately try to solve the problem. Offering suggestions all depends on how you do it; if you offer suggestions in a gentle way, while also reiterating the issues you’ve already discussed, the speaker will be more likely to listen. When people already think someone is a good listener, they’ll be more likely to accept their advice.

Clear away distractions

Decluttering the space around the two of you lets the speaker know you’re willing to focus on him or her. Put away your cell phone or laptop and don’t look at it during the conversation. By putting away these objects, you’re showing your commitment to fully invest in the person in front of you. Neither of you will be distracted by outside influences and can fully focus on what’s occurring in the moment.