Listening: A key to success

Whether I am coaching leaders, executives, employees, salespeople or individuals for personal growth, often the need to improve one’s listening becomes a focus, if greater success is the goal.

Below you will find one of my favorite quotes on listening, as a key to success:
“To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only to the ‘music,’ but to the essence of the person speaking. You listen not only for what someone knows, but for what he or she is. Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow our mind’s hearing to your ears’ natural speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning.”
— Peter Senge
As part of my coaching and consulting practice, I have a listening assessment that I often give my clients. It measures their effectiveness in listening in three categories:

  • Awareness
  • Presence
  • Brainpower

Awareness is the first component of effective listening as we first need to believe that listening is an important part of communication. Listening is not about judging who is right or wrong, or ending up as the person with the “right” answer, but instead honoring and discovering the person who is speaking, including their thoughts, their ideas and their feelings without being quick to judge. People can feel the difference between a listener who is fully engaged and interested: A person who is preparing their next remark is too busy to digest the speaker’s words. If we are not aware of the importance of listening, our tone of voice, body language and prepared remarks will reveal our deep belief that what we have to say is more important than the other’s contribution.
Presence means showing up in the conversation, fully engaged: making eye contact, not interrupting, responding proactively verbally and non-verbally, and not faking attention. Children are intuitive when it comes to faking attention and will often call us out. I will never forget how my daughter, who was only 7 years old at the time, called me out on my half-present listening one morning when I was rushing at my computer to meet a promised deadline. When she walked up to my side and asked me a question, I nodded my head yes and gave her a quick grunt, without moving my eyes from the screen and computer keyboard. Because I had normally practiced being present when I listened to her, she knew what good listening looked and felt like. This day, she let me know I fell short by taking her little hands, one on each side of my face, as she gently turned it to meet her eyes and reminded me, “Mommy, when I speak to you, please look me in the eyes and really listen to me.” My coaching had been absorbed, and I was both pleased and convicted. Often in my coaching sessions I find out others have silently taken another’s poor listening personally, only to affect their self-esteem, performance or to eventually cause them to leave.
Brainpower is our ability to concentrate on another’s message without getting emotionally triggered. This is difficult when our emotions get involved, as we tend to interrupt and argue back minor points to not feel the uncomfortable feelings evoked. This results in the “ping-ponging dynamic” that makes us forget the original topic at hand. I see this often when I attend business meetings among strong personalities who want to “debate” a point to show their “rightness”, only to leave a meeting without resolution or a plan of action. This is a classic communication issue among couples too: Just a few simple words can get us off focus, because we are now feeling less than and afraid of losing something important to us like our reputation, respect, a relationship, power or our job. If you are someone who gets caught up in your emotions during a conversation, or gets too focused on the minor point details, you may be missing the bigger “meta-message” someone is trying to relay to you.
Whether you are a leader, wanting more employee engagement and results; an employee who wants more collaboration and cooperation; a sales person who wants more sales and customer loyalty; or someone who wants more meaningful relationships, learning to listen more effectively will be a key to your success.
Challenge: Where in your life could listening help you be more successful?
Susan K. Wehrley has been a business coach and consultant for 25 years and CEO of BIZremedies, an online strategic community. For more information view her websites at or contact her at 414-581-0449.

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Susan K. Wehrley is an executive coach and business consultant that aligns executives and businesses to their vision, values and goals. She is also a regular contributor to Forbes. You can email Susan at, (262) 696-6856 or visit her website for more details.

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