How You Listen is the Most Important part of Communication

In a Facebook post, someone added a quote about the power of words.  In an article yesterday, I said that words had no power at all. The real power comes from how you listen. The author of the post disagreed. He said that this takes responsibility away from the speaker.

Communication isn’t just the speaker’s responsibility

Being responsible for how you listen takes no responsibility away from the speaker. The speaker’s job is to provide good stuff to listen to. The speaker is 100% responsible for the communication and its delivery.

The listener is also 100% responsible for the communication. The listener is 100% responsible for being receptive and getting value out of it. The listener is responsible for how it lands. You can shirk that responsibility, sure. Or you can try to master it. In fact, if you get good at taking responsibility for your listening, you’ll be amazed at what you begin to hear.

Another myth is that the responsibility is 50/50. Do you know how, in a marriage, 50/50 doesn’t work? It’s true in communication, too. Being half-listening rarely works well. Often it doesn’t work at all.

Listen for value from a lousy speech

There are many great speakers. And some not-so-great. And some are lousy. But a responsible listener can get a ton out of even a not-so-great speaker or speech. This is one tool a manager or CEO can use to make a poor company become great. People may not be communicating well, but good managers can hear what they need. I’ve heard stories of how one VC found a great company that many others turned down. And stories of how a good business heard valuable feedback from customers that other companies were deaf to.

It pertains to encouragement, too. Listen for people’s contribution and then acknowledge it. Listen for what kind of feedback or belief or tolerance or connection or help or training an employee is looking (or listening) for. Tune in to what’s stressing them and relieve that.

“The speaker is responsible” is a myth from the age of television

Thinking the responsibility for communication is all, or even mostly, on the speaker is a common fallacy. It looks like that because the speaker is moving the most and is easy to judge. And we’re used to being entertained by TV and movies and now videos. There’s tons of stuff to criticize. But if you’re listening in order to judge, you’re not listening openly. You’re not listening for possibility or something new.

Granted, this is a different way of thinking than is usual for our culture. Especially in politics, the usual subject of this blog, we’re ready to hear blame or assign blame at every moment. We have deep-seated feelings about people and who’s at fault and our brains are ready to attack or defend in a moment.

You can be responsible for how you listen, for your whole experience

Try to be responsible for having all those triggers and for believing them. When your mind is triggered and produces an angry thought, try to react like your mind was triggered rather than something external is to blame for making you angry. Sure, none of us wants to think the negativity is coming from us. But all minds do that. Your experience can be your own choice.

I’m committed to being responsible for my own thoughts and my own listening. It’s often hard. Maybe some different kinds of minds simply can’t do it- I can’t know… I know my life is much better because of it. And I’ve seen many others do this and value it.

Negative thoughts come up like there’s really negative stuff out there. People seem to be stupid, close-minded and limited. But then I listen for something positive, and it’s there, too.

Maybe I’m more sensitive to this stuff because PeopleCount is communicating a counter-cultural truth. It’s a truth about political accountability that our culture is blind to. It takes exceptional listening that few have been able to bring without coaching. And that’s okay.

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