Sometimes the difference between success and failure lies in the margin. Successful people are rarely 10 times more intelligent than ‘normal’ people. Nor are they 10 times harder working or fortunate. Highly successful people simply do little things a little better than most of us. They gain an ‘edge’ through detailed observation, focused learning and positive persistence. There is no big secret to their success. It is simply a formula that can be applied by anyone willing to put in the time and effort.
One element of this formula is so simple that very few people actually give it much thought. In my 20 years of building companies and coaching executives, I have found that most people, even highly educated executives, persistently ignore the one thing that could supercharge their careers and deepen every relationship in their lives. If they could only do this one thing well, they would realize that success is much, much easier than we are taught to believe. It is something that we all know how to do, and yet rarely practice to perfection. It is called listening.
Yes, we all know what listening is. Most of us like to believe we are good listeners, and think that this skill is innate to anyone with ears. And yet we also know many people who don’t listen. We have friends whose eyes glaze over when we speak, bosses who cut us off, and vendors who seem more interested in talking than asking questions. In fact, I would estimate (highly unscientifically) that around 95% of all people on the planet are horrible listeners. And yes, this probably includes you.
Most of us like to talk, and we do it with abandon. We tell others what we think, expound on our every belief, and generally empty the contents of our minds into every meeting and conversation. We are so obsessed with being heard, that we don’t have the space to actually receive information. This is a shame, because if we could only learn to listen – to practice what I call Power Listening – then we could open a whole new world that is completely hidden to most of us. Through acute, focused listening we could make ourselves privy to secrets and relationships that are the drivers behind every highly successful person.
What is “Power Listening”? It is a way of connecting to others that increases the quality and flow of information that you receive. When you have good information, you can make better decisions and plans. Power Listening also creates a trusting connection with the speaker, because people who feel heard are much more likely to have a favorable view of you and your thoughts. When you listen well you earn the right to speak, and your words will be taken more seriously when you do. Power Listening is the one skill that virtually every person on the planet can practice, and the results show themselves almost immediately.
To practice Power listening you must first master what I call PPCC: Presence, Patience, Curiosity and Care. Presence is putting away all of your other thoughts and concerns and focusing completely and intently on the speaker. Patience is the willingness to allow the speaker time to complete their thoughts, even if their process seems irrational, inefficient or confusing. Curiosity is the genuine desire to completely understand the unique perspective of the speaker. Care is the deep, heart centered belief that the speaker is valuable as a human being and that his or her words and perspective are worthy of being heard – with compassion and non-judgment. When you create this state inside of yourself, then you are ready to truly listen. PPCC is actually the hardest part of the process because most of us habitually do the opposite: We come into conversations distracted, impatient, bored and self-interested.
Once you have prepared yourself, then Power Listening is a simple skill that can easily be mastered with practice. All you need to do is:
- Ask. Use curious, open-ended questions to encourage others to speak about themselves and their perspectives.
- Hear. Listen carefully and with great interest.
- Confirm. Reflect back, or ‘mirror’ to the speaker what you have heard. This is also called ‘perception checking’, which means you are checking with the speaker to see if you have heard him or her correctly. If the speaker confirms that you have it right, then you can continue listening. If you got it wrong, you can ask the speaker to clarify.
This process might seem absurdly simple, but I believe it is the single most powerful thing you can do to create success. There is truth to the old saying “If you want to find the smartest person in the room, look for the one not speaking.” When talking is your ‘go-to’ you come across as self-important, annoying and insecure. With every word you risk saying something hurtful or uninformed. If you practice Power Listening, however, you let others teach you what you don’t know. You create a sense of importance in the speaker, which is then reflected back to you. Virtually every human being wants to be heard deeply. Through Power Listening you become a trusted, respected friend whose company is sought by all.
The next time you are in a meeting or a conversation, become aware of your habits. Do you reflexively speak, or do you first seek to understand? When listening, are you busy composing your next thought or are you genuinely trying to hear what the speaker is saying? Be honest with yourself, and then try to improve your ability to Power Listen. In my experience the results are not only profitable, but highly enjoyable!
About the Author
We are fortunate to have an affiliation with entrepreneur, author, professional coach and all-around great guy, KC Hildreth. KC’s philosophy is to learn, experience and improve a little bit everyday. Over 25 years, this has resulted in a diverse and successful background. To learn more about KC’s work, visit his website at www.kchildreth.com. You can also find a wealth of inspiring content in his blog and a collection of free resources and downloads that can help you get started on your own personal journey.