Definitely one of the top soft skills, in my view. Think about this as one of the central themes for ‘trust’. In training terms we often call this ‘active listening’. In simpler terms, we, as empathetic humans, always know when someone isn’t listening to us with all their head and heart. I run a fun little exercise on courses to prove this. Someone is set as the active speaker – and is told to prepare by thinking about their last holiday or what they did last weekend – because they will be talking about it for two minutes soon. Then I take the listeners and brief them to be attentive for the first 30 seconds, start feigning lack of interest for the next 30 secs, then lose interest completely after 1 minute, but come back after 90 seconds – to try to repair the relationship!
It is always fascinating. Some speakers just stop trying to speak. Some get angry and say things like – Hey – I’m obviously boring you – just listen up will you?!”
And these are people at a workshop who know I have set something up…but they can’t help themselves reacting big-time!
The listeners find it very uncomfortable too. It feels unnatural to be that impolite…
BUT – we all will do it today at some point. Not quite being there. Not being fully engaged. Thinking about our response before we even have allowed the speaker a bit of their own space. We will interrupt. We will drift off into thinking about that report we have to write, or that meeting we need to be at.
And – do you know – it will always cost us more time to fix the conversation or even the relationship than if we had just been there, fully, in the moment and listened. That’s the way trusting relationships are built.