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How Do You Listen?

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Written by: David Pottruck

When you’re listening to someone, are you listening intently or with intent?  

Sometimes people are just waiting for you to finish so they can make their next point. They’re not really listening.

They’re waiting for you to pause so they can object or provide the next point. That’s listening with intent. Listening intently is hearing for meaning and understanding.

Those who listen intently come to conversations curious. “What is it that you’re really trying to tell me? Give me a little more. I’ll tell you what I think in a minute.” It’s digging for the question behind the question.

Listening intently requires patience.

That’s something I’ve learned, and it’s something I continue to work on. Learning to listen better is a never-ending journey, one that involves a lot of self-discipline. 

Often times the things you don’t want to hear are the things you need to hear. In fact, to be successful in any pursuit, you have to make it easier for people to give you honest and unfettered feedback they’re uncomfortable giving. It’s the kind of feedback you may not enjoy getting.

Most people do the opposite. They make it more intimidating to give feedback so they don’t hear unpleasant things that need to heard. Who wants to hear criticism? It can be deeply painful. But if you’ve ever been an athletic or artistic performer, then you know the only way to get better is through performance feedback. Yes, a pat on the back is encouraging, but it’s the pain points, the places where improvement is most needed that creates the greatest progress and opportunity.

It doesn’t always sound constructive. It certainly doesn’t always feel constructive. But you have a certain degree of control on how you take the feedback. You can listen intently or with intent.

Listening is how you will get the best out of yourself.

You really can’t improve if all you get are pats on the back. If you want to accelerate your pace of improvement, encouragement can get you to try harder, but it won’t get you to change what’s not working. And we all have things that work and don’t work in our level of performance.

In a hyper-competitive world, you need to accelerate your pace of improvement. Start by listening.

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