Learning to Listen


Harvard Business Review recently put up an interesting post by Ram Charan. The title of the post is called The Discipline of Listening, and though it isn’t particularly long, it’s full of wisdom.

Charan points out 5 important tips for actually listening to what people have to say:

  • Pan for the Nuggets
  • Consider the Source
  • Prime the Pump
  • Slow Down
  • Keep Yourself Honest

I recommend taking the time to go over to the post and read through it with careful deliberation. Normally I would simply link out to a post like this on my Twitter feed, but this one struck me directly.

About a year ago I had a client who I was consulting. This client prided himself specifically on how good of a listener he was and how important that was to his business. He went on and on about how “Listening” was the number one life lesson that he had learned.

The irony, however, was that he was a terrible listener. I saw it first in his inability to execute simple and effective maneuvers which I had recommended to increase his online presence. Next I decided to talk to some of his employees. It didn’t take very long to figure out that he was excellent at picking very smart people to work for him, and then to summarily ignore them.

This client was a really nice guy. I like him today, and so do his employees. But he’s completely deluded. He’s sold himself on an image as a person who listens. He truly believes that he’s a good listener – but he doesn’t put any of it into effect.

Unfortunately, the client implemented very few of my suggestions. In the same time, I’ve watched his competitors fly past him, developing a great business presence and creating a quality connection with their customers.

Delusion is a trap, and one that’s especially easy to fall into as you’re running your business or school. People convince themselves that they are what they claim to be. But becoming a good listener is like any other skill – you don’t just claim it, you have to develop it. Developing these skills takes time and diligence. Take the time to clear the fog from your path – you’ll be surprised at what’s all around you.

  • Eric Roth

    Thank you for sharing both this illuminating HBR article and your personal experiences with self-proclaimed “listeners” who don’t listen.  I’ve had similar experiences with English teachers and journalists, and share your conclusions about the dangers – and folly – self-delusions. Parroting a slogan can just be talking the talk and forgetting to walk the walk.

  • Brent

    Thanks Eric. Sometimes it’s almost embarrassing, isn’t it? On the other hand, for some people it takes a lot of courage and self reflection for people to admit their self-perception is inaccurate. Swallowing your pride is hard – also spoken from personal experience.