The Most Important Skill

It can be draining to be around bad listeners. But I meet them all the time, of all ages. If I had to say one thing that I think they all had in common, it would be untapped potential. It’s gotten to the point where every time I see someone who doesn’t appear to be living up to their potential, I will guess first and foremost that they are not a good listener. This is rarely proven wrong.

I think listening is the most important skill anyone could have.

Listening is the one skill that unlocks all others. Want to improve your writing? Listen to good writers. Want to improve your technology skills? Listen to tech people. Want to accomplish anything in life? Listen to people who’ve done it before.

I could go on, but for now let’s move forward to steps on how you can improve listening, in yourself or in others.

First, you must understand that listening is both a skill, and an active one at that, and not some sort of passive behavior, which is the default view many people have. Don’t think for a second that this is an obvious concept. In fact, this concept is a relatively new one in human history. It wasn’t until a group of smart people got together in Cambridge, England one day in 1969 and declared that listening was, contrary to popular opinion, non-passive, very complex, and a fundamental skill that required learning and instruction that there existed a formal effort to promote this concept.

And even since then, adoption of this idea has been agonizingly slow. It was pioneered by academics in second-language acquisition and it still has not even spread entirely to that academic field in which it originated. To this day, if you ask the people around you and surveyed foreign language instructors (who should really know better) worldwide, I am positive that you would still find a large percentage of people who believed that listening was something people just chose to do or not do, as opposed to a skill that had to be taught and learned.

So do you want to succeed in your career, and help others in your office succeed as well? Learn and teach the skill of listening. Read it, practice it, and if you’re a real go-getter do as I did — take and initiate formal training in it.

Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article on “active listening” to get you started, and a very nicely done activity worksheet from MindTools.com.

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Dick Davies

Great post!

Here’s the tagline from the Field Notes notebook website, “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now!”