Effective listening is a learned skill that requires patience and attention. In my experience, some of the most admired and respected leaders are those that are confident, understanding, and great listeners. We all feel a sense of joy and connectivity when someone remembers a fact about us or a moment in our lives—whether in your personal or professional relationships. In my experience, being an effective listener has literally saved my life when conquering the world’s tallest mountains in some of the harshest conditions on the planet.
My name is Bo Parfet and I am a seasoned investment professional and philanthropist by day and an avid adventurer and mountaineer by night. I have built successful businesses, helped small start-up organizations gain capital to elevate their business models, and helped investors establish well-rounded portfolios. My professional life has been built on my ability to listen to others and make connections based on my understanding of their needs and desires.
In my personal life, I have experienced some of the toughest physical and mental challenges in the world, reaching the peaks of the Seven Summits, completing research missions inside an active volcano, and navigating dangerous river rapids. I would have never been able to reach these accomplishments without the help of a team and without understanding the art of listening.
Listening is a quality that we should all strive to perfect. However, it is not a quality that comes easily or naturally to many. Meeting someone new, creating a professional relationship, or maintaining an existing personal relationship all require active listening to ensure the other person is not only heard but understood. Becoming a better listener will help improve these relationships and ensure successful outcomes. Here are five tips on becoming a better listener:
Be present. We live in a high-tech world where we are constantly being interrupted by our phones, computers, and watches. Being present means turning these distractions off. Put your phone and watch on “do not disturb”, maintain eye contact, and focus on what the other person is saying.
Don’t interject. When someone else is talking, try to let them finish. Perhaps you are listening so intently that you feel connected to something they are saying but save it until they are done. Interrupting a colleague’s presentation or a family member revealing news is distracting to them and they may lose concentration without being able to fully express their ideas or thoughts. Instead, use body language such as nodding your head and leaning in to express that you are listening and aware.
Ask at least one open-ended question. Listening is not simply a one-sided conversation. Find something in what the other person has said and ask them to elaborate. Asking specific questions about something another person has just shared will show that you were listening, and it will help you make a deeper connection to their story and/or experience.
Find a connection. As a leader, it is important for others to view you as “human”. After you have taken the time to listen to the other person, find something within their discussion that you can relate to. Listening builds deep, meaningful connections. These connections can lead to personal and professional success.
Follow up. One thing that is extremely easy yet meaningful, is following up. As you reflect on your day or week, take a few minutes to let others know that you appreciate them and the time you spent together. It can be as easy as sending a quick text message or email. This simple act will not only help you remember important facts about another person, it will help build your credibility as a listener and leader.
There are many things we can do each day to improve our listening skills and become effective and respected leaders in our industry. The simple acts I share above are just some of the ways I have built my personal and professional relationships. All any of us want in life is to be heard, and as a leader, it is your duty to grant that to all who you encounter.