If you were going on a job interview today, what would you say is the most important skill you would need? Is it writing to create a knockout cover letter and resume? Or maybe salesmanship? After all, aren’t we all salesmen in one way or another, regardless of our profession, starting from the time of our first interview? Or what about charisma? Aren’t charisma and an associated likeable personality a sure-fire road to the job you want?
Instead of being interviewed, what if you were the one in charge of recruiting a new person for a position at work, for a non-profit organization, or some team that you were leading? What is the top skill you would need to succeed in your endeavor? Discernment? Good judgment? To have the ability to share your vision and get the person you want on board? Or maybe it would take well developed negotiation skills?
Or, let’s say you have been promoted within your organization and your new role includes the responsibility of supplying new ideas to the company; what characteristics would you need? Insight? Imagination? Critical thinking skills? A great education? What is the number one ability that you would need?
More than charisma, salesmanship, judgment, insight, critical thinking or negotiation skills, there is one skill that you will need above all the others. It is the common skill that all individuals who have the ability to connect with others and move various initiatives forward possess.
Have you guessed by now what it is? It is the ability and willingness to listen. Influence, respect, admiration and loyalty are not built by talking, but by listening. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, advised, “You can make more friends in two weeks by becoming a good listener than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you.” David Schwartz noted in The Magic of Thinking Big, “Big people monopolize the listening. Small people monopolize the talking.”
Do a couple of people, who possess this ability to listen and make you feel truly valued, come to your mind? Two that jump instantly to my mind are my good friends Rick and Anita Prince. They will ask a question and then sit back to listen and simply enjoy absorbing it all. They have a gift for making others feel special. They seem to practice Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy that he offered, “When I’m getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say – and two thirds thinking about him and what he is going to say.” Listening twice as much as speaking seems like a good ratio to maintain.
Beyond listening to the words, I am amazed by Anita’s intuitiveness from what she hears and what she sees with her eyes. She has an ability to slow down and hear the unspoken words given through facial expressions, body language, etc. Management expert Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” Anita has an ability to slow down and observe those around her and know when something is right or wrong. Recently, when my wife, Barb, had been diagnosed with a tumor in her sinus area, and before we had shared it, I received an e-mail from Anita asking what was wrong with Barb – that she had noticed the day before something was up. She had also asked at an earlier date if I was feeling ok because she could see something was wrong – at the time my back was bothering me! While it didn’t surprise me that someone could tell, if they really looked and listened, it did surprise me, as I think about it, that she was the only one in a church full of people, on both occasions, who was in tune to those around her. Karl Menninger, psychiatrist, author, and one of the founders of the Menninger Foundation, said, “The people who listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius.” Listening creates influence, solidifies relationships, increases knowledge, generates ideas, and so much more.
For some reason, it is human nature to want to talk, to share our ideas, our opinions, and what we feel we know. Listening, indeed, takes more focus, discipline, and selflessness than simply talking. Edgar Watson Howe once joked, “No man would listen to you talk if he didn’t’ know it was his turn next.”
Former president Ronald Reagan told an amusing story about two psychiatrists, one older and one younger. Each day they showed up at work immaculately dressed and alert. But at the end of the day, the younger doctor was frazzled and disheveled while the older man was fresh as ever. “How do you do it?” the younger psychologist finally asked his colleague. “You always stay so fresh after hearing patients all day.” The older doctor replied, “It’s easy, I never listen.” But listening shows respect. German-born philosopher-theologian Paul Tillich commented, “The first duty of love is to listen.” And listening is the quickest way to knowledge and understanding. Lyndon B. Johnson kept a sign on his office wall that read, “You ain’t learnin’nothin’ when you’re doing all the talkin’.” Wilson Mizner shared, “A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.”
At the best universities in America, students continue to be taught facts, figures, and formulas, while it is truly the soft skills, such as listening, and other people skills that if added will bring you to the top. The ability to listen and truly understand people is one of the greatest assets anyone can develop. David Burns, a medical doctor and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, observed, “The biggest mistake you can make in trying to talk convincingly is to put your highest priority on expressing your ideas and feelings. What most people really want is to be listened to, respected, and understood. The moment people see that they are being understood, they become more motivated to understand your point of view.”
If you want to create influence, gain the appreciation of others and create deeper relationships it is often a matter of simply listening up.
Excerpts for this article were obtained from Becoming a Person of Influence by John Maxwell and Jim Dornan – which I highly recommend.