The world's most endangered skill is active listening.
Unfortunately, social media and messaging apps keep people from ever learning how to properly listen. People spend hours glued to their mobile phones. When I was enjoying my coffee at a cafe in Korea, I saw a couple on a date at a nearby table. They were sitting across from each other. Instead of talking to each other, they were typing on their respective phones in total silence
While our scrolling obsession is here to stay, the rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness are skyrocketing. The art of truly engaging with others and comprehending their thoughts and feelings is essential for building meaningful relationships, fostering collaboration, and achieving success in both your professional and personal lives.
The consequences of neglecting active listening
Social media platforms and messaging apps have undoubtedly transformed the way we community. Remote work has transformed how teams work. However, this transformation comes at a cost, leading to a decline in our ability to actively listen.
Recently, a friend lamented about the hours they are spending in Zoom calls and Slack conversations with various stakeholders. Subsets of stakeholders would be syncing in private Slack channels. Meeting summary notes are inconsistently shared, or people misreading and negatively reacting to messages on Slack. By the time all the stakeholders got together in one room, the stakeholders are misaligned, distraught or unaware of what's going on. I asked how often they meet in person. The friend responded "maybe once every few months."
Here is another example from a previous project I worked on. I was brainstorming offer ideas for user acquisition with a product manager - let's say their name is Harper. We were in deadlock over the word "contest." Coming from marketing and business backgrounds, I thought that Harper wanted a global sweepstakes. For those not familiar, sweepstakes have specific legal conditions that differ by state or country that would increase the effort required. It turned out that Harper was referring to something else entirely that was significantly easier to implement. A simple question would've saved us almost half a day in Zoom calls and lengthy Slack threads.
Misinterpreting messages due to lack of context or emotional cues is common when active listening skills are underdeveloped. Our constant exposure to bite-sized content encourages shallow interactions, making it harder to engage in deep, meaningful conversations. Scrolling through feeds has conditioned us to skim and scan, contributing to a diminished attention span. Disconnect from face-to-face conversations can erode empathy, as we lose the ability to truly understand and adapt others' emotions.
How I am nurturing active listening in 10 ways
It doesn't have to be that way. Here are 10 tips to nurture and hone your active listening skills.
- Be present: When engaging in conversations, put aside distractions and fully commit your attention to the speaker.
- Maintain eye contact: Whether in person or during virtual meetings, maintaining eye contact demonstrates your genuine interest.
- Ask open-ended questions: Encourage in-depth discussions by asking questions that require more than just a yes or no answer.
- Practice reflective listening: Summarize what the speaker has said to ensure you've understood their message correctly. Extra credit: Summarize those notes in an email or Slack message to send after the meeting.
- Limit multi-tasking: Refrain from checking your phone or engaging in other tasks while someone is speaking to you.
- Resist the urge to interrupt: Allow the speaker to express themselves fully before jumping in with your thoughts.
- Empathize and validate: Show understanding and empathy by acknowledging the speaker's emotions and experiences.
- Seek different perspectives: Engage with diverse viewpoints to broaden your understanding and challenge your assumptions.
- Engage in face-to-face conversations: Whenever possible, opt for real-time, in-person interactions to capture non-verbal cues and emotions.
- Use positive language: Using positive or negative language in our everyday talk defines the relationship we have with the other person. It affects the way we think and feel about ourselves which can affect subsequent actions. Using positive language can inspire others around you to think positively and encourage collaboration.
Nurturing your active listening skills is essential for your career and everyday life. In a world dominated by memes and emojis, the ability to truly understand and connect with others will set you apart. By applying these tips and strategies, I have seen positive impact on my relationships with peers, friends and family, so I'm confident they will help you as well.