The Importance of Listening

The Importance of Listening

The Importance of Listening

The most basic of all human needs

is the need to understand and be understood.

The best way to understand people is to listen to them.

~(Ralph G. Nichols)

Watching the Democratic national convention, we’ve been closely following the protests of Bernie supporters, not because we love drama, but because we believe they will rejoin the party once they believe they’ve been heard and understood.

We are often asked what makes a strategic positioning or identity program succeed or fail. One of the most critical keys to success is to ensure that important people within the organization feel like they have been heard and understood. From universities to corporations and government initiatives, decision makers and rank and file alike are more enthusiastic and involved when they know they’ve been heard.

Dr. Ralph G. Nichols, quoted above, was a legend in the field of listening. He received the lifetime achievement award from the International Listening Association and was the author of Are You Listening, a pamphlet with the 10 aspects of listening, and many speeches on the subject. He is credited with establishing the field of listening.

He said his studies shifted from the sending side of oral communication to the receiving side when he learned by coaching a debating team that as they became better listeners, they became more persuasive. He also found that he could make weak listeners better listeners than naturally good listeners, that good listening could be taught.

With mankind’s need to understand and be understood, we need to enhance listening skills in every quarter and corner of society. The pressing need for understanding is greater than ever – among politicians, religions, corporate leaders, police and communities, companies, educators, and marketers.

At Marshall Strategy, we spend a significant amount of time listening to our clients. We witnessed the transformation of one of the harshest critics of an identity initiative for a major research university become its biggest advocate, after seeing that we had heard, and carefully considered his input.

We feel particularly successful when our clients say, “You understand us better than we understand ourselves,” which happens frequently. This gives us the credibility to make strategy recommendations that our clients listen to just as carefully.

1 Comment
  • Ron Krumpos

    August 24, 2016 at 6:47 pm Reply

    While student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1961, I became friends with Carl Rogers, who was as one of the leading psychotherapists of the 20th century. He taught me much about the art of listening.

    Dr. Rogers said that when we listen, and people know we are listening, it shows we truly care about them. In turn, they will respond by caring about you. It opens communication and also opens hearts. When we accept them as a person, unconditionally, they will be more kind to you.

    We should listen without preconceptions, without anticipation and without judgement if we want others to portray what they truly feel. We listen with all our senses, not just to the words which are said. Some people cannot fully express themselves while speaking, so we must try to see them as they see themselves. We should watch for non-verbal clues as to what they really mean: facial expressions, body movements, etc.

    While we should show positive regard for the other person, we should also demonstrate our own positive self-regard. We do not react to their negative comments, verbally or physically, even when we disagree with them. When they do ask for our opinion, however, we should respond with our true thoughts and in specifics rather than generalities. We offer our own perspective as other options rather than as contradiction.

    Listening might seem quite passive as opposed to speaking. It is actually very active. To paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, “I learn while listening. When I talk I don’t learn too much.” If you think talking helps to spread your own wisdom, you are not really wise.

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