The Power of Listening

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When we want to improve ourselves, we need to comprehend. Before that is possible, we will have to have listened to information and put it in a certain context. Recently I have been hearing a lot about the 80/20 rule, or what is also known as the Pareto Principle. It simply states that out of 100% of an effort, 20% has the majority of impact, while 80% is almost irrelevant.

In business you might here something like: “20% of our best people generate 80% of our profits”, or “20% of the richest people in the country pay well over 80% of all taxes”. When we explore leadership, management, or coaching, there is an expectation of dominance. We think leaders need to be charismatic and strong, especially in communications. Managers are expected to be directive and strong, especially in communication, and coaches need to be good guides and strong, especially in communications.

So how does that translate into the Power of Listening? Do all those not in a leadership, management or coaching position need to listen to their leaders, managers, and coaches? And if they do, does that help them in their job, company, department, sport, etc.?

In reality we all, especially those of us in these visible positions, need to become better active listeners. That means not just being in a place and having exposure to the noise. Active listening includes paying attention to what is being said, how it is said, and what the person saying something might intent. At the same time, in a leading role, like in coaching, or managing, it also includes asking good questions.

The Power of Listening – and taking action based on what was heard – is vastly increased when you ask the better questions and then allow the other person to provide thorough answers. You need to listen actively, attentively, and with both your mind and your heart (the ears are really just the mechanisms to translate sounds waves into electrical signals your brain can decipher).

To help you ask better questions and apply the power of listening, here is a list of top 10 questions I adopted from John Whitmore.

Assume you have asked an initial question regarding a specific topic. After listening to the first reply, here is how you can/should continue:

1. What would the consequences to you, others around you, and your organization be if what you just suggested would be done/implemented?

2. What criteria are you using for your point of view?

3. What is the hardest/most challenging part of this whole thing for you?

4. What else? (besides what you already said)

5. If you knew the answer to the problem/issue/inquiry, what would that do for you?

6. What suggestions or advice would you give to others in your situation?

7. Tell me a little more in detail what is actually making this into such a problem/issue for you?

8. What would you gain/lose by doing/saying that?

9. If someone would say/do what you just suggested, what would you feel/think/do?

10. If you had this discussion with the wisest person you can think of, what do you think he/she would tell you to do?

The main point about the Power of Listening lies in you as a leader, manager, or coach to actually listen. If you can change from 80% talking, teaching, and trying to convince others, towards 20% talking, you will discover a very significant change. You will learn that asking questions is much more powerful than providing content all the time.

People you encounter will cherish you as someone who listens, who cares, who wants to learn more, who asks intelligent and deep questions, and who actually reflects on the answers.

In addition to this new level of appreciation, you will also learn to ask yourself what you should be asked in case you encounter a problem. By knowing what questions to ask, you can pretty much create an internal communication with yourself, which will provide you with many new insights and help you find new visions and strategic solutions for your life, your organization, your company, family, and everybody you touch.

Try it. You will be amazed how the Power of Listening can actually improve your life dramatically.

Axel Meierhoefer is an experienced performance coach, author, educator, consultant, and the founder of Axel Meierhoefer Consulting LLC (AMC LLC). His motto is Helping others help themselves achieve success.