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3 Critical Behaviors of Good Listeners

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Humans instinctively want to share their experiences.  The more experienced a person, the fuller they are with ideas.

Many people view Listening Skills to be of lesser consequence than articulation and focus on learning how they can present their own views more effectively.

Good listening—the keen and orderly pursuit of probing and challenging the information collected from others to enhance its quality and quantity—is key to developing a knowledge-base that creates new insights and ideas.

Listening is unquestionably the most efficient route to making informed judgments, particularly judgments that leaders have to make.  That is why the Soft Skill of Good Listening is considered a building block of Leadership Development.

Good listening can lead to a longer and fruitful relationship at work and elsewhere.  Exceptional Client Management and Team Management, especially, and a host of other situations demand Good Listening skills.  Respecting the speaker, even if there is disagreement and reacting in the moment without expectation is part and parcel of Good Listening Skills.  The speaker should feel respected and understood after having a conversation with a Good Listener.

People possessing Good Listening ability assume a somewhat passive speaking role in the conversation yet actively participate in the conversation using body language and follow-up questions.  They display 3 Critical Behaviors that make them what they are—Great Listeners:

Demonstrate Respect

Making the speaker feel that what they are saying is important.  This feeling gets reciprocated quickly.

Remain Quiet

One cannot really listen while busy talking.  Remaining quiet enables understanding of the actual point the other person is making.

Challenge Assumptions

Good Listeners seek the underlying assumption in the conversation and challenge it.  This generates new ideas and opens up paths untrodden.

Let us look a little more deeply into some of the key characteristics of the 3 Critical Behaviors of Good Listeners. 

Demonstrate Respect

People displaying a Problem Solving Mindset solicit input from all levels and demonstrate respect in this manner.  They always make the speakers feel that they have something exclusive to contribute and assume that the conversation partner has the proficiency to develop worthy solutions.  

Remain Quiet

In a good conversation, the conversation partner speaks 80% of the time and the Ideal Listener speaks 20% of the time.  A Good Listener poses questions in most of the 20% time.  By remaining quiet the listener’s objective is to extract the prime motivation or thought behind the conversation.  Patience and practice are needed to cultivate the habit of weighing in at the correct moment.

Challenge Assumptions

A Good Listener challenges long-held and valued assumptions in order to make gains from conversations.  Ambiguity is embraced and a quest to uncover what both conversation partners can gain from the conversation is enlivened.

From the above 3 Critical Behaviors, we can synthesize the following 13 actions that a Good Listener should make while in an active conversation:

  1. Be fully present.
  2. Do not listen to respond.
  3. React in the moment.
  4. Do not have an agenda.
  5. Do not jump to give advice.
  6. Never interrupt.
  7. Ask follow-up questions.
  8. Listen as much as (or more than) speaking.
  9. Demonstrate listening.
  10. Be patient.
  11. Listen to learn.
  12. Be interested in what the speaker is interested in.
  13. Summarize what has been heard.

Identifying what a Bad Listener looks like helps avoid such behavior and consequentially move us on the path to becoming a Good Listener.  Bad listeners may be categorized into the following 6 types:

  1. The Opinionator
  2. The Grouch
  3. The Preambler
  4. The Perseverator
  5. The Answer Man
  6. The Pretender

The same person can display these behaviors at different times and under different circumstances.  Perfecting listening skills means learning what prevents us from seeking and hearing the information we need.

Interested in learning more about the critical behaviors and actions of Good Listeners, and 6 Types of Bad Listeners?  You can download an editable PowerPoint on Soft Skills: Good Listening here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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