The Lost Art of Listening

“We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.” - Susan Cain

When we sit down to connect with one another, we could discuss the nuances of our vast, mysterious and complex world. But guess what we talk about? Ourselves.

In an even more embarrassing turn, this University of Liverpool and University College London research shows that we spend 60% of our conversations talking about ourselves, which leaves 40% for talking about someone or something else, or, Lord forbid, LISTENING.

Why are we all such embarrassing conversationalists? Well, a Harvard study reported on here at Time Magazine, says our brain reward centers light up when we self disclose. The truth is if we weren’t such dopamine junkies, we’d benefit more long term. Listening well, according to research compiled by the International Listening Association, predicts success at work, makes you a better leader, a more respected and liked friend, and indicates confidence.

Yet, sometimes we mistake listening for silence and silence for absence. We want to feel heard, and we fear that being quiet is the same as passively fading into the background. While there are people who sit silently in a absent-minded manner, never contributing, this is not the same as being an active listener. Active listeners are never absent. They take you in with their silence and make you feel at ease and understood.

Being a good listener means taking in what’s said to eventually contribute to a conversation in a broader and more meaningful way -- a way that can repeat back what others have said, tie those ideas to a broader topic and then relate to them in a personal or universal way. To be that person in a conversation is to be knowledgeable and respected. Isn’t that what we all really want?

The fact is that shifting from being a talker to a listener will benefit you by building the following:

Knowledge -- Better listeners are better students in academics and in life. We’re all here to learn and grow and self-soothing or seeking a dopamine hit through chatter is not going to increase our self awareness or intuition about the people or world around us. If silence scares you and makes you reach for the TV or phone, consider this: this study from Brain Structure and Function found being silent for as little as 2 hours a day creates new brain cells in the hippocampus. So zipping it really does make you smarter.

Relationships -- If you’re the type who worries about others liking you and so you babble to fill silence, reconsider. According to this study from the American Psychological Association, we all like and trust people who listen to us. So if you want a friend, you only have to be one and listen.

Personal Power -- Effective business leaders know listeners have the power to persuade, which is why “active listening courses” are a thing. This phenomenon could also be known as, “when the quiet person speaks, people listen.”  As Peter Bregman of the Harvard Business Review says: “Silence is a greatly underestimated source of power. In silence, we can hear not only what is being said, but also what is not being said. In silence, it can be easier to reach the truth.”

In the end it’s really simple: to become more influential, build confidence and develop deeper relationships, all you have to do is zip it and listen. Aren’t you sick of talking about yourself anyway? Why not talk about the universe or science or art or the person in front of you. Try it. It’ll benefit you in the long run.

Human Unlimited
Human Unlimited