Why listening well is a powerful investment – and how to maximise the returns you get

By Heather Campbell

How many hours have you spent listening to people this week? How many hours have you invested in listening to people this week?

Spent means ‘having been used and unable to be used again.’ Invested means ‘putting money, time or other resources into something with the expectation of achieving a profit’. Within the context of these definitions, let me ask you those questions again.

  • How many hours have you spent listening to people this week?
  • How many hours have you invested in listening to people this week?

But an investment in what and for what return? Wow! So many things.

Here are some wise words echoing through the generations that highlight just some of the returns you can expect.

One must listen if one wishes to be listened to.

La Rochefoucauld, 1613-1680, French writer

He who speaks sows. He who listens, gathers the crop.

Pierre Claude Boiste, 1765-1824, French lexicographer

Nobody is more persuasive than a good listener

Dale Carnegie, 1888-1955, American self-help writer

This seems like a pretty good list of benefits and are just some of the reasons that I see listening as an investment, not as time spent.

What’s more, as soon as you start to see listening as an investment, you’ll be more motivated to do it well (no more replying to emails when you’re in a middle of conversations because it means you’re spending your time more fruitfully, right?).

And, of course, you want to get maximum returns. So how can you ensure your listening is so good that you maximise your investment in it?

Here are my top three tips:

  1. Start from a point of genuine interest in what the other person is saying, yes, even that person who keeps telling you the same thing over and over again. You know why they’re doing that? Because they still don’t feel you’ve really listened to what they’re saying. And, let’s face it, most of the time you’re going to be there while the conversation or presentation is going on, so you might as well start with the intent of investing rather than spending your time.
  2. Watch out for your own fears creeping in: fear is the enemy of effective listening because it means our attention is focused on ourselves rather than on the other person. Here are some common examples that show you’re investing in your fears rather than investing in what the other person is sharing: ‘I don’t like where this is going’, ‘I don’t like what they’re saying’, ‘They’re criticising me’, ‘They’re disagreeing with me’, ‘They’re being difficult’, ‘This is an uncomfortable topic’ or even just ‘I don’t have time for this right now.’
  3. When you notice your own fears creeping in, get out of your head again by asking a genuine question that helps you to understand more about the other person’s point of view and so gives you something useful to invest in listening to once more. You can do this easily with three simple words ‘Tell me more.’ Extra bang for your buck with this one: These are a powerful investment in any relationship, not just a powerful investment in effective listening. In fact, I reckon that these three little words used more often in relationships with our nearest and dearest would keep those relationships sweet far more effectively than those other three little words ‘I love you.’

So, in the next conversation you have today, in your conversations tomorrow and next week, invest your time in listening, don’t spend it.

And, as always, observe yourself and others with interest and learning, not with criticism and judgement.

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