The Lost Art of Listening

Did you know there really is a difference between hearing and listening? Hearing is the ability for your ears to perceive sound. On the other hand, listening has to do with your level of engagement within the context of a conversation.  It is about your ability to translate physical hearing into understanding. 

While most leaders can physically hear, many have not intentionally developed the skill or the art of listening.  As leaders, our ability to listen effectively is a critical component to leading others well.  This is also challenged by the fact that we lead in a fast-paced society with an ever decreasing attention span. 

In the book Coaching 101:  Discover the Power of Coaching by Robert E. Logan & Sherilyn Carlton, the authors list what they describe as the 5 Cardinal Rules of Listening which are practical tools that can help us continue to develop the skill of listening. 

  1. FOCUS:  Give undivided attention to the person who is talking, without allowing your mind to drift off toward what you’d like to say next or to concerns in your own life.
  2. SUMMARIZE:  Summarizing is mirroring back what people are saying.  At appropriate stopping points, reflect back what you hear the person saying, without interpreting, evaluating, or projecting feelings onto the person’s statements. 
  3. INVITE:  When a person talks a bit about a topic and then stops, ask for more.  We often edit ourselves as we speak because we’re used to short attention spans in our listeners. 
  4. UNPACK:  Exhaust the speaker’s resources before sharing anything yourself.  Train yourself to think of their ideas as more valuable than your own. 
  5. CLARIFY:  Check your assumptions by asking, “Here’s what I’m hearing you say so far . . . Is that accurate?” 

With practice and intentionality, we can revive the lost art of listening and discover the benefits of honing this skill.