Oct 5, 2023 - Economy

Axios Finish Line: What good listeners have in common

Illustration of a distorted ear with speech bubbles surrounding it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Few glitches in our species are more annoying — and baffling — than our inability to just listen.

  • I'm talking about sitting quietly, with an open mind — unburdened by selfish or defensive mind spams, and soaking up what the other person is actually saying.

Why it matters: This isn't a rant about crack-like phone addiction or gnat-sized attention spans. It's an attempt to help us — me very much included — to hear not what we want to hear, but what others are saying.

  • Imagine the relationships saved, productivity gained, clarity achieved if we could better use our goofy-looking ears.

I'm blessed with a few good listeners at work, including Mike Allen and Allison Murphy, our SVP of operations. I picked their brains for some tricks for upping our listening game:

  1. Think first. Good listening starts before the conversation, Allison advises. Are the objectives clear? Is this about problem-solving, venting, exchanging data, brainstorming? If it's not clear, ask: "What do you need from me in this conversation?"
  2. Put a sock in it — confidently. Think about any meeting or group dinner. Usually the person running their mouth isn't the person with the most power, the most interesting life — or the most to say. Selling something? Asking for a raise? Trying to impress a first date? You'll get to "yes" in the time the other person is talking — not when you are.
  3. Clear the clutter. It's impossible to listen if you're fiddling with your phone, staring at your computer, daydreaming, or simply pretending to care or listen. You need to lock in to have a fighter's chance of hearing. Your teacher was right: When you're talking, you're not learning.
  4. Stop self-obsessing. No one thinks you're smarter when you're babbling or filibustering or self-indulging. No one feels heard if your version of listening is silently crafting your clever comeback while they talk. This is the original sin of crappy listening. Stop committing it.
  5. Savor silence. One of the oldest tricks in the book for a great interviewer is being willing to endure silence, Mike says and practices. Don't yield to our human impulse to jump in and fill the awkward pause with your random words. Let the other person fill the silence. What you'll learn is priceless. And you can think about what you really want to say, based on what they really said.
  6. Monitor for repeats. If someone is repeating themselves, Allison explains, it is because it is (1) really important and/or (2) they don't think you're hearing them. Call it out: "You've mentioned X a few times. Can you say more?"
  7. Then listen — truly and intently. Allison often ends a discussion or meeting by saying: "What I hear you saying is..." This is a masterful way to show you were listening — and to make sure you heard with precision what the other person was trying to convey. Don't leave space for fogginess. Force clarity — and understanding.

This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

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