Sound Business

Active listening for business success

If you browse the private bookshelf of anybody in business, you can be almost guaranteed to find a couple of books about how to deliver compelling presentations, or how to engage with an audience at any event, or meeting. But how many books would you find about the opposite of presenting and speaking; books about listening? I would hazard a guess that you wouldn’t find any at all.

In today’s business world, we do seem to be greedy to speak, rather than to listen. We are hungry to meet and network with others, but almost reluctant to actually hear them. It appears that the art of conversation has faded into the culture of personal broadcasting. Active listening changes that and allows us to uncover what is really being said. Listening needs to be treated as a skill and like any skill requires learning and practise. If mastered it can be one of the most beneficial skills anybody can develop.

…the art of conversation has faded into the culture of personal broadcasting…

If left unchecked our business conversations, as opposed to a constructive dialogue can amount to nothing more than a swapping of anecdotes. So how can we change this and start to use active listening for business success.

Firstly, let’s identify a few key features of a good listener.

  • They will urge clarification in order to uncover the deeper attitudes and drivers of a conversation.
  • They will reflect what the speaker has said back to them.
  • They do not judge, or moralise based on what is being said.
  • They can separate disagreement from criticism.
  • And, probably most important, a good listener will actively encourage the speaker and push them forward in their conversation.

Studies have shown that in meetings, or presentations, we only actually retain 25% of what is being said. We tune out, using our own in built filters, in order to place or own spin or opinion on what has been said, as opposed to actually hearing what has been said,  

…Why is this skill being slowly lost?...

These filters, many of which have been ingrained in us since childhood, can include our own view on culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, intentions - and will place an unconscious colouring on what has been said, rather than exactly hearing and understanding the speech directed towards us.

Why is this skill being slowly lost? It can be because we can record meetings and presentations on the portable devices we carry with us, negating our need to accurately listen. Alongside this is the fact that world, even in our offices, is a noisy place, both visually and auditory. This noise tires us and drains our energy and we block it out to regain the opportunity to hear ourselves think. This is why so many people now sit at the desks in open plan offices with headphones on specifically to drown out the noise that surrounds them. It seems that our brains can no longer cope with the cacophony of sounds that bombard us – hence we stop listening.  

…this noise tires us and drains our energy and we block it out to regain the opportunity to hear ourselves think…

  1. To regain our active listening skills there are a number of exercises that can be done. If regularly practised, like all skills, they will become natural and hugely beneficial.
  2. Silence: Silence is golden. Simply sit for 3 mins a day in complete silence. No background noise, no message alerts from smartphones, just pure silence. Allowing your mind to hear silence recalibrates your hearing.
  3. The Mixer: Next time you are in a coffee shop, as opposed to reading your messages as you stand in the queue, just actively listen and aim to identify all the differing sounds you can hear. From the door opening, to the steam of the coffee machine. This will improve the quality of your listening. 
  4. Savouring: Learn to enjoy mundane sounds such as cars driving by, or the sound of people walking. 
  5. Listening Positions: Learn to change your listening position, from passive to active, or critical to empathetic. You can control your listing in the same way that you can control your speech.
  6. R.A.S.A: This short for Receive, Appreciate, Summarise, Ask. It can make a big difference when you are next sat in a sales meeting.

It is widely understood that active, or as it is also called, conscious listening vastly improves our understanding and it allows us to live a fuller life.

One person who actively listens and has had huge business success is the Chief Design Officer at Apple, Sir Jony Ive. On one of Apples recent promotional videos, in which they celebrated the work of Sir Jony and his world beating design team, he said “One of the things we’ve learned (at Apple), is the importance of listening, as some of the very best ideas can come from the quietest voice”. 

If you’ve not heard that, then don’t worry, you probably weren’t listening.


Like this article? Share it with your friends and colleagues!

WINN brings innovators together, acting as a catalyst to create connections and collaborations across the diverse business landscape of Worcestershire.

Our belief is that great things can happen when people get together.

WINN is a Worcestershire Innovation Programme formed by Worcestershire County Council and the Worcestershire LEP