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My Thoughts on What Great Listeners Actually Do.

Today, when we attempt to constructively look at the market, we see how dynamic it has become as compared to some decades ago. Nowadays, the marketplace has become brutal, to say the least. Competition has become scarier and to compensate for that, companies have resorted to putting a lot of pressure on their staff especially the managerial staff. 

People who are responsible for the human resource of the company. Their job requirements have increased two-fold over the years and today, (due to such intense competition), it is expected from even the college students and graduates to have a long list of experience. What is baffling is that companies expect you to have experience when you are applying to get experience? I find this situation quite amusing. 

While attempting to answer such questions, I came across an interesting article What Great Listeners Actually Do by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. The article is truly interesting and I would recommend you read it. 

The article begins by stating the basic assumptions concerning what qualities does a good listener possess which include: 

  • No talking;
  • Making the “Mmm-hmm” sound from time to time; and 
  • Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word

However, according to their research, these requirements “fall far short of describing good listening skills”. Their research allowed them to identify the differences between great and average listeners and they grouped them into four main findings.

  1. Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. 
  2. Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem.
  3. Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation. 
  4. Good listeners tended to make suggestions.

They concluded by stating that “the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height, and amplification”. 

In my rather humble opinion, I believe that although the result of the research is interesting, however, they might not be suitable for all situations and definitely don’t provide a universal definition of “what a good listener actually does”. 

The rationale is that a manager (as the subject of the research concerns itself with the workplace environment/relationship) in addition to all the abovementioned requirements, first needs to be a good observer in order to be a good listener. This is because a manager has to be cognizant of the fact that all of his subordinates are different individuals with different backgrounds and thus, a different way of looking at different situations. 

So, the level of listening as well as the kind of response may differ accordingly. Let’s take an example, in a challenging and competitive situation, two different subordinates will act differently, and thus, a manager when encouraging them to stay productive will have to respond accordingly. For instance, the first subordinate may have leadership qualities and consequently may not require the same level of listening as compared to the second subordinate who although good at his/her work may not be that good under pressure. 

Therefore, one of the most essential requirements for a good listener is to be a good observer. This will allow the individual to know what kind of response would work best with the other person when listening. For some, the “hmm-hmm” works better and they do not prefer the in-between conversations suggestions while for some people the in-between conversations work better. 

In conclusion, I would agree to disagree with the authors. So, if you’re trying to be a good listener, focus on observing others and learn to listen very carefully. It is definitely a slow and gradual learning process and one would not become a good listener overnight. So, have patience.


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