According to Jim Breyer, Managing Partner of Accel Partners, during a Stanford entrepreneurship lecture series from 2005, the best and most successful entrepreneurs―particularly Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook―are “extraordinary” at it, but it is “rarely seen.” More recently, the CEO of the luxury brand Burberry was interviewed and said that, in her opinion, NOT doing it is one of the biggest mistakes a leader can make and that doing it well would be her most important piece of advice to anyone leading a company.
So what is it? What is the one essential skill that seems to be the hallmark of the extraordinary entrepreneur and other successful leaders in business? What do the best of the best do right that so many others do wrong?
Listening may sound like a simple task, but the truth of the matter is that most of us are not very good at it. In fact, research shows we spend far more time talking than we do listening. And even when we think we’re listening, the majority of us are really only plotting what we’re going to say next. Simply hearing something is not enough. Hearing is a physical perception. Listening is a mental activity―one you can learn to master. All it takes is a willingness to learn and some effort.
Anyone can immediately improve their listening skills to a significant degree in a matter of minutes by following these simple guidelines:
- Consciously clear your mind so that it is programmed to “receive” as opposed to “send,” and concentrate on keeping an open mind throughout your exchange.
- Practice non-verbal attentiveness. Lean in, come out from behind your desk and establish on-level eye contact, try not to fidget, and use encouraging gestures when you can.
- Use verbal assurances as appropriate. Ask probing questions, incorporate what you’re hearing when you do so, paraphrase when necessary, ask for clarification and engage in respectful probing.
- Take lots of notes and look up frequently. It’s even okay to tape record an exchange, first explaining how important it is that you hear all that is being said and get it right.
- Listen twice as much as you talk and when you do, speak in a respectful tone of voice.
- Always pause before you speak so you can think about how to respond appropriately.
- Actively solicit feedback and opinions, with the assurance that what is shared is always appreciated and never judged as being wrong.
- Make a conscious effort to listen for non-verbal cues and messages, as well as main points.
- Be especially cognizant of the speaker’s feelings, and remember that oftentimes what is not being said is every bit if not more important than what is.
The truth of the matter is that if you want to be a successful business opportunity or other small business or franchise owner, knowing how to listen might be the most influential skill you can possess.
Take it from two of the most recognized leaders in their respective fields, Lee Iacocca, the former CEO of Chrysler Corporation, and Donald Trump, American business magnate, author and television personality:
“I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.” (Iacocca)
“Watch, listen, and learn. You can’t know it all yourself. Anyone who thinks they do is destined for mediocrity.” (Trump)