The Wisdom in Listening

One of my personal goals as I age is to grow in wisdom.  Some people, I know, assume that wisdom comes naturally with age.  But the older I get  I’m about to turn 64, for anyone who is counting  the more I understand that to be untrue.

Wisdom actually comes from working hard to understand the truth, and then applying that truth to our lives.  And simply adding years to your life has no direct impact on understanding or applying truth.

But one thing that does have a significant impact is listening. And sometimes I fear, as I interact with a generation of younger people who are overly dependent on communicating through text messages, emails, and the myriad electronic apps and platforms, that basic listening skills are being lost.

On a broader societal scale, the sports world recently witnessed an example of a lack of listening, and the false assumptions that poor listening can generate, when Andrew Luck announced his retirement from the National Football League.  Immediately after his announcement, people were all over both social media and more traditional media questioning his character, his heart, his desire, his toughness, etc.  A lot of people gave me the strong impression that his decision was all about them, and clearly they weren’t listening to him.  It’s certainly possible that many people didn’t even care what he had to say, for many seemed to regard his decision as a personal affront to them and an infringement on their right to entertainment.

Unfortunately, this kind of cultural behavior doesn’t surprise me anymore.  From the talking heads on TV who argue with one another without listening to one another, to our political debates that are not debates at all, to the comments in online media where one smart aleck looks to top the other, we see how things are changing.

But as an advisor who is in the business of helping people, know that it’s well within your power to move the other way on this cultural trend.  And if you do, I guarantee that it will improve your business as well as your personal relationships.

Here are a few points to bear in mind if you want to improve your listening skills:

  • As much as possible in this mobile-telephone and computer dominated world, make it a point to actually interact with people face to face.

  • When you can’t converse face to face, use your telephone to speak to the other person.

  • On the flip side of the phone equation, answer your telephone.

  • If you must use text messages, do so, but only as a last resort or as a courtesy to some who prefers that method of communicating.

  • When you converse, don’t do all the talking.  In fact, don’t even do much of the talking.  Let the other person talk while you listen.  Intently. Make eye contact that so that the person’s body language can actually help you understand what he or she is trying to say.

  • When you don’t understand or something needs more clarity, ask questions.   

  • When meeting with prospects, either face to face or on the telephone, ask questions to get to know them. 

  • From your initial contact forward, do whatever you can do to rid yourself of the mindset that you have a solution to their problem before you have asked the important questions that will uncover what their problems and needs really are.

  • Understand that the process itself  of conversing with your client, asking probing questions, and really listening to their answers – cultivates your relationship and builds trust in you and the ideas you have to offer.

  • Exercise some patience as you listen.  This process of cultivating a relationship, no matter the kind, is one that takes time and significant personal investment.

  • Understand that every personal interaction you have, whether social or in business, is an opportunity to make a connection with another human being, an opportunity to build a relationship, and an opportunity to build your business.

At the very least, each opportunity to listen is an opportunity to get better at listening, and at the same time, a chance to gain a little more wisdom.

Charles K. HirschCharles K. Hirsch, CLU, is the former editor and publisher of Life Insurance Selling Magazine. He continues to contribute to insurance industry publications, in addition to providing consulting and marketing services through his firm, Hirsch Communications Consulting, LLC. He can be reached via email HERE.