Listening skills

Listening skills: why listening gives managers an advantage

Posted on · Posted in Personal and Career Development

Are your listening skills helping you manage?

As we discussed in our recent article, active listening skills are important for effective management. But just how important?

In 1957, U.S. academic Ralph G Nichols wrote an article which quoted a manager attending an executive seminar on listening skills. The quote reflected on how critical listening is to the work of a manager:

“I think that perhaps 80% of my work depends on my listening to someone, or on someone else listening to me.”

It could be argued that management at its simplest is about listening, or about being listened to.

The problem is, listening skills don’t often feature in management development programmes. Perhaps they seem too obvious. As the former CEO of Chrysler Corporation, Lee Iacocca once said:

“I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.”

Listening skillsNichols, had already attempted to do what Iacocca suggested: to teach people how to listen. Author of Are You Listening?, Nichols is credited with founding the academic study of “listening”. He re-counts how he began his 40-year career in the study of listening:

“I began my career as a highschool speech teacher and debate coach. As my debaters improved their listening skills, I discovered they improved their persuasive skills.”

Amongst many observations made by Nichols, three underpin the value of listening:

  1. The most basic of all human needs is to understand and to be understood.
  2. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.
  3. We are at the mercy of those who understand us better than we understand them.

What do these insights mean for managers? Nichols suggested two important conclusions from his observations:

  • To understand others gives us an advantage.
  • The more we listen, the more persuasive we become.

So, it’s advantageous for managers to understand the people we work with. By learning to listen properly, we learn to understand more fully. And once we do this, we can improve our own communication skills.

This in turn means we can become more persuasive in our own arguments, and thus more effective at management: “… the art of getting things done through people.”