Last week, we began our conversation on listening with Dr. Larry Prybil’s powerful story on how he learned how to become a good listener as well as the first two key characteristics – Focus and Interaction. This week, we are continuing the conversation with two more key characteristics and a call to action!
Over the years, in teaching graduate students and mentoring post-graduate fellows and young healthcare managers, I always look for occasions to discuss the importance of building strong listening skills. In these occasions, I usually begin by asking if — in their lifetime — they’ve known persons with exceptional listening skill and, if so, if they’ve appreciated and valued those persons. Almost unanimously, their answers to both questions are strongly affirmative. Then I ask if they consider themselves to be great listeners. In most instances, they are hesitant in responding and, after some reflection, only a small proportion of persons rate their listening skills highly. And almost all agree that listening skills are important to success and that their skills need substantial improvement.
At this point in the conversation with them, I like to share the good news. It is that each and every one of them can become better listeners – today! Simply by realizing the importance of strong listening skills, making a real commitment to get better, and starting to pay attention to the fundamental principles we have discussed, they are immediately on the road to becoming more effective listeners. Attaining superior listening skills simply requires serious, sustained
effort on their part — including on-going commitment to seeking feedback from those with whom they interact. Of course that feedback is helpful only if they are willing to hear, listen, and internalize it.
In addition to focus and interaction, the other 2 key characteristics of good listeners include:
- Create a positive climate. It seems to me that truly effective listening also entails the creation of a positive climate in which the person(s) to whom you are listening feel respected and supported, even if you do not agree with their views or recommendations (“What Great Listeners Actually Do“). To this day, I recall how much I appreciated the willingness of that senior medical commander to engage in dialogue and demonstrate genuine interest in a young administrator’s viewpoints and ideas. That dimension of our interactions was always uplifting and inspiring.
- Conduct self assessment. Building and sustaining effective listening skills also involves on-going self-assessment and seeking feedback from those with whom you are interacting. As in all aspects of human behavior, the only pathway to excellence is on-going evaluation and improvement. Like all skills, the quality of one’s listening skills can deteriorate over time unless they are maintained, refreshed, and sharpened. Deterioration generally occurs slowly and over time, usually without intent or even self-awareness. Losing your listening skills will have adverse effects in the family, social, or business environment — and can be avoided by consistent attention to how your approach is being perceived by others.
In short, building and maintaining excellent listening skills is a key to success in almost any endeavor. Have you assessed your listening skills recently? If not, I encourage to you to do so.
Again, many thanks to Dr. Larry Prybil for teaching us how to be better listeners!
Lawrence Prybil, PhD. LFACHE
Professor Emeritus, University of Iowa
Community Professor, University of Kentucky
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