Enjoy The Silence: Listening As The Foundation For Superior Communication

I was always skeptical about teaching effective listening. I literally thought the content would go in one ear and out of the other. I thought getting people to change something so fundamental about themselves was a fruitless endeavor given the limited time and practice available in communication training. 

Listen to me: I was wrong!

Even when effective listening was a very small part of an overall curriculum, the participants frequently declared it as the most memorable and/or the skill that provided the most post-session value for them. And trust me, such feedback is more than anecdotal, more than just responses on evaluation forms—the importance of effective, active listening for professional and personal success got echoed over and over in numerous one-on-one, post-learning event follow up coaching sessions. 

The journey of how I impart this wisdom to future learners continues to grow. Most recently, I began marrying Brene Brown’s research around empathy misses in Atlas of the Heart  with communication misses we experience when we don’t listen well. I think one of the biggest contributors of these misses is the fact that we are uncomfortable with silence. Often our first impulses command us to fill it with advice or something about ourselves. Brene’s research also discovered that discomfort played a role in empathy misses when receivers didn’t listen for ways that honored the speaker’s experience, but, rather, filtered what they heard through their own experiences and responded in ways that invoked things like judgment and avoidance.

When somebody is speaking, the best—and probably the hardest!—thing to do is not think about a response. This way there is less of a chance of filling that silence with something that does not let the speaker feel heard, both aurally and holistically. Such a thing takes a lot of practice—and it’s easy to backslide, especially when it’s easy to guess the direction of a conversation with people  whom we know and work with intimately. The less steering we do, the more control(another word that appears in Brene’s research in this context)_we relinquish in the conversation. That is a good thing: control seems antithetical to dialogue.

There is nothing wrong with advice and sharing our own points-of-view but not at the expense of hearing others. We need to be open to things like sitting in silence or clarifying what we heard, and echoing the speaker’s words, tenor and tone. The people in our lives—colleagues, bosses, children, partners–will notice; trust me. I’ve heard this time and time again. And they will thank us by responding to us in deeper and more meaningful ways. 

Guest Blog by John Mancuso

Authentic Communication Matters



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