Why listening is harder than you think—and how to do it right

Make time in your day to reflect

Listening—really listening—is a vital and frequently underutilized leadership tool, Melissa Daimler, head of global learning and organizational development at Twitter, writes for Harvard Business Review.

Decades ago, a study found that the typical person forgets about half of what people say as soon as they finish saying it. As workers are increasingly distracted by packed schedules and 21st-century technology, "there's no reason to think" that we've gotten any better at retaining colleagues' remarks, Daimler says.

That's a major problem—but it's a solvable one, Daimler writes, if you prioritize listening as part of your organization's culture.  

At Twitter, Daimler says managers train to think about three levels of listening:

  • Internal listening, which is "focused on your own thoughts, worries, and priorities, even as you pretend you're focusing on the other person;"
  • Focused listening, which happens when you are focused on the other person but still not "connecting" with them fully; and
  • 360 listening—"where the magic happens"—when you are listening to what a person says, what they don't say, and how they are saying it.

Achieving high-level listening takes practice and intentionality, Daimler writes. She suggests three strategies for improving your listening skills: 

  • Make eye contact with people in meetings to help tune out distractions—and to make sure you are giving your coworker, not your laptop, your full attention;
  • Create time in your day for reflection by shortening meetings when possible and penciling in time to "reflect on a conversation and prepare for the next one;" and
  • Ask more questions to make sure you are "listening and understand the situation" (Daimler, Harvard Business Review, 5/25).

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