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The Silence of Listening

By Karla Brandau

If you want to catapult ahead of others on the treadmill of success, try silence - the silence of listening. Zip your mouth and refuse to interrupt or break into the other person's thoughts. This takes a high degree of discipline, especially if you have an outgoing, social personality, but it is definitely worth the effort. It is okay to briefly interject an occasional "Hmmm," "Ah," or "I see," but no more.

True listening is actually silent flattery! Plus, it builds teamwork, trust, and a sense of belonging to a group. It earns you respect and, perhaps most importantly, cooperation. In addition it will:

  1. Cut down problem-solving time as issues surface more quickly.
  2. Smooth out relationships, since candid conversations are allowed to occur.
  3. Elicit positive responses in difficult situations because participants do not fear retaliation for their divergent viewpoints.
  4. Gather an infinite amount of information for you, once people feel safe to speak the truth from their individual perspectives.
Acknowledgement is a basic, universal, human need. Consequently, when you listen attentively to another human, you fill their need to be acknowledged, so they are more likely to respond positively to you. A positive response means that they are more likely to receive and embrace your ideas more quickly.

Proper listening also includes avoiding body language signals or facial expressions that say, "I'm okay but you're definitely questionable"! Appropriate listening should instead communicate, "You are important and I'm not judging you." When people feel safe with you, they will lower their guard with you much like they would to a trusted counsellor or skilled psychologist. They will become comfortable relaying things to you that they would never reveal in an antagonistic environment.

Only by appropriately listening can you learn what others truly know and think about a difficult choice. By gathering different insights and outlooks, you will be armed with information that will help you make better decisions.

At some point during the listening process, you undoubtedly will be exposed to bizarre opinions and bad ideas. It is important to restrain your initial human impulse to say, "That's the stupidest thing I've heard this century!" Comments like this will ultimately turn the now-embarrassed speaker into nothing more than a robot that functions according to what they perceive as your views. In the future they will not share their genuine thoughts and feelings for fear of additional embarrassment and rejection. This leads inevitably to depriving YOU of critical input you need to develop additional innovations.

To refresh your memory on this forgotten skill of listening, here is what it looks like:

  1. Listen in a nonjudgmental way - only then will people openly suggest ideas and share thoughts.

  2. Note their body language - read their emotions and feelings to perceive their complete message.

  3. Be empathetic - and you will create an environment of security and trust, thus encouraging honesty.

  4. Acknowledge - accept the speaker and build their self-confidence, and you will get a surplus of information filled with honest, candid reactions.

  5. Provide limited (but encouraging) input - their spirits will expand as they are encouraged to express their views in a respectful atmosphere.

  6. Rephrase and expand their ideas - carry their thoughts one step forward. Help their ideas to unfold and expand in front of their eyes.

  7. Express what you are FOR, not what you are AGAINST - giving them positive feedback on their thoughts can open true dialog and release a stimulating interchange of ideas.
Listening is a strange, magnetic, and creative force. American author, Breda Ueland says that "When we really listen to people there is an alternating current, and this recharges us so that we are constantly being re-created." The pace of the 21st Century demands almost daily re-creation. Mastering the art of listening provides you with information to re-create yourself and recharge your organization.

Give meaningful conversations your full attention and you will catapult your career to the top with the friends you make and the information you gain just through the silence of listening.

"It is the province of knowledge to speak,
and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen."

--Oliver Wendell Holmes, American writer and poet

Karla Brandau, CSP, is an expert in change, leadership and team building in the flat world. She offers keynotes and workshops to move your organization forward. Sign up for her monthly newsletter, From the Desk of Karla Brandau by going to Karla Brandau.com. Get your free poster of suggested listening skills.


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