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Be a World-Class Listener: The Power of Listening

This lesson is a part of an audio course Be a World-Class Listener by Ben Butina, Ph.D.

In the first lesson of this course, I mentioned two painful facts. First, most of us are delusional about our listening ability. We're just not as good at this as we believe we are. Second, because we believe we're good enough already, we don't try to get better. The question is, in a world full of bad listeners, why should you be any different? Why should you spend your precious time and effort improving your listening skills when the rest of the world seems content to run on auto-pilot?

In this lesson, I'll share just a few of the hundreds of research studies that have been conducted on the power of listening, and I think you'll soon be convinced that becoming a better listener is well worth your time and effort.

Let's start here: how much of your day do you think you spend listening to other people?

Well, research shows that we spend, on average, somewhere between 45%-70% of our waking hours listening. That is a big chunk of your life. You've probably already spent years of education and training to get better at things you do much less frequently than that, right? Think about how your relationships, your work, and every other aspect of your life will improve if you get better at something you spend 45% to 70% of your time doing.

What a lot of research on human wellbeing demonstrates is that the biggest single determining factor in the quality of your life is the quality of your relationships. And listening to people will improve the quality of your relationships, and it starts right from the very beginning.

When you meet people for the first time, are you concerned about what you'll say or do to make a good first impression? Research shows that one of the best things you can do is take your attention off of the brilliant or witty thing you want to say and to listen to them. That's right, effective listening can help you make a stronger first impression, and that's true for new business associates, social contacts, and romantic partners.

Now let's talk about your friendships a little more. Research here shows that distracted listening hurts friendships. When you're not paying attention to your friends when they talk to you, it hurts them. On the other hand, an attentive, empathetic friend who really listens is actually rated as more empathetic than a professional counselor. Now I've been trained as a professional counselor, so I can tell you that I spent a lot of time working on being a good listener, so it's really saying something that a friend with an attentive ear is rated as more empathetic than someone whose whole profession is based on listening ability.

Listening is also crucial for romantic relationships. Research here shows that effective listening skills will improve your ability to pick up on your partner's attitudes and feelings. That kind of understanding is a key to intimacy. Research also shows that when you listen to your partner attentively while they talk about their stress and troubles, you're both better able to cope with what life throws at you, and you'll have a more satisfying relationship.

Finally, let's talk about your career. You already know that listening is important at work, regardless of your job. But did you know that people perceive good listeners to have more leadership potential? Study after study shows that effective listening will not only help you become better at your current job, but it will help you become better at your next job as well. A survey of managers shows, for example, that they value listening skills as an important management tool and that when they listened well, they felt better about themselves as well.

I could go on for hours about this research, but here's the bottom line: a good life is mostly about having good relationships, and good listening will help you build and maintain those relationships.

I hope you're convinced that good listening is worth working for because, in the next lesson, I'm going to start sharing the how-to. We'll start with setting the right intention before you even begin to listen, so listen up!

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Written by

Ben Butina, Ph.D.

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