Throughout the ages, it’s the notable speakers and orators who have charted the course of history; from Aristotle to Jesus, down through Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Great speakers and their speeches have inspired, moved and motivated individuals, armies and nations. The memorable speeches and the people who delivered them represent mileposts in mankind’s evolution. Is it any wonder that we tend to think of speakers and speech as being all powerful?

But what about the listener? Are there any chapters in history dedicated to great listeners? Are there any monuments or statues erected in their honor?

Although the great orators and their words have historically received the accolades, an uncanny aptitude for listening had to precede their speech. Without a speaker’s keen ability to listen, to feel, and to interpret the mood and circumstance of the people and times, their words would have failed to inspire. Their message would have lacked relevance. Empathic listening and deep understanding had to precede the great speeches of our past.

The Misunderstood Power of Listening

The speaking side of communication has undoubtedly been glamorized, which is fine, but unfortunately it’s been at the expense of the essential skill that had to precede it; effective listening. Speaking typically represents action and power. Listening has been falsely perceived as weak and passive.
• A politician gave the perfect speech and swept the election.
• A salesperson gave the perfect sales pitch and overwhelmed the “helpless” purchaser.

A salesperson without superior listening skills will never be a long-term sales success. A politician without a finely tuned ear will never consistently and effectively respond to the electorate.

Formal Speaking and Listening

If you’re among a group of people listening to a speech, your individual power as a listener is limited. To listen to the speech effectively still requires your mental participation to absorb and reflect on the message, but your ability to impact the speaker and the subject matter is severely restricted as compared to two-way dialogue. I’m going to refer to this kind of speaking and listening as formal. Formal listening would imply that the listener must stay in the listening position and cannot assume the role of speaker.

Informal Speaking and Listening

During informal communication, which is where most of our communication takes place, the speaker and listener can, and will, frequently switch roles from speaking to listening. This is where the listener can exert power and effectiveness through empathic, high level listening or he may squander that power by interrupting, advising, judging and sharing similar experiences.

To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well,
and is as essential to all true conversation.
~ Chinese proverb ~

The Real Power of Listening

It’s a simple fact that a listener is always learning. You can’t learn much with your own mouth open because it stands to reason that whatever you have to say, has to be something you already know!

Good listeners attract people like moths to a flame. They make us feel comfortable and valued. Have you noticed how a good listener affects your energy, comfort level, and enthusiasm? What about the opposite? Have you ever been excited to share some good news with someone only to find their disinterest drained your excitement and energy like a popped balloon?

Have you ever noticed how a poor listener can directly affect your energy, comfort, enthusiasm, or nervousness as you speak? Have you ever felt turned off by a speaker who drums his fingers, glances at his watch or looks anxious or bored? Have you felt your enthusiasm wane when you shared something exciting with someone who refused to share your excitement?

Conversely can you recall sharing something exciting with someone who was caught-up in your excitement? Doesn’t it add to your shared experience? Can you remember sharing a personal story, experience or intimate feelings with a person who really listened? If you have, you know that the listener had a powerful effect and a lasting influence on you. That is real power!

Silent Listening, a Wellspring of Information

If information is power, then listening is the conduit to power.

The next time you ask someone a question and you get an unsatisfactory answer try this … say and do nothing. Silence is a void that makes people extremely uncomfortable. Almost without fail a momentary pause on your part will cause them to leap into the silence like a cat on a mouse. Just the simple act of silent listening will often produce a fountain of speech from the other person. When someone finishes speaking and you don’t “go along” by immediately picking up your end of the dialogue, invariably the speaker will begin to elaborate. It may not be long before they eventually get around to saying exactly what you want to hear.

The power of holding your tongue is often overlooked, especially in sales. Remaining silent allows you to collect your thoughts and be more prudent in your reply. International American business people will often confront a foreigner who claims ignorance of the language. They will frequently bring along an interpreter even though they’re perfectly capable of understanding and conversing in English. This tactic allows them to buy extra time to form a reaction and a response. It allows them to observe and listen twice as much as they could without an interpreter.

An effective listener can lead a conversation and greatly influence its outcome. When a listener begins to understand this little known power they can wield silent listening with great force. A listener can use his observational powers to perceive a speaker’s feelings and emotions. An effective listener will also hear volumes about things not said.

In a February, 2007 Business Week article, Carmine Gallo writes;

Only a small percentage of communication involves actual words: 7%, to be exact. In fact, 55% of communication is visual (body language, eye contact) and 38% is vocal (pitch, speed, volume, tone of voice). The world's best business communicators have strong body language: a commanding presence that reflects confidence, competence, and charisma.

What does that say for a powerful listener with observational skills? The difference between what an effective listener would extract from a conversation (visually and audibly), and what a listener with a wandering mind would extract would be so strikingly different, it would almost suggest there were two separate conversations.

A capable listener can literally control a speaker through nods, subtle expressions and body language. A listener’s silent communication can stop a speaker in his tracks or encourage him to open up and express his deepest thoughts and feelings. This type of listening isn’t passive, weak or apathetic. In fact it’s dynamic and requires a good degree of skill and energy to resonate with the speaker while absorbing words, feelings and emotions.

Lenin could listen so intently that he exhausted the speaker.
~ Isaiah Berlin???

A disciplined listener’s skills, strengths and perceptions continually grow stronger with practice. Through effective, empathic, high level listening, you will quickly begin to deeply understand the important people in your life. Now that’s real power!

I love the story of effective listening that Jack Canfield shares in his wonderful book The Success Principles. He says that during his year of attending Dan Sullivan’s Strategic Coach Program, he was taught a powerful communication tool to establish rapport and create a feeling of connection with another person.

He learned a series of four questions that he applies in personal and business situations. He asks the questions one after another. He said the first time he tried it was with his sister Kim. He asked the first question and listened to her response. When she had finished he asked the next question, and then the third and fourth.

By the end of the fourth question over an hour had passed. Jack said that aside from the few words he used to ask each of the four questions, he himself never said a word. At the end of their conversation Kim smiled and said to him, “That’s the best conversation I think we’ve ever had. I feel so clear and focused. I know exactly what I need to go and do now. Thank you.”

The four questions Jack learned to ask were;

1. If we were meeting three years from today, what has to have happened during the three-year period for you to feel happy about your progress?
2. What are the biggest dangers you’ll have to face and deal with in order to achieve that progress?
3. What are the biggest opportunities that you have that you would need to focus on and capture to achieve those things?
4. What strengths will you need to reinforce and maximize, and what skills and resources will you need to develop that you don’t currently have in order to capture those opportunities?

I have asked some similar questions of my own to people in conversation and the results are always amazing. Not only will I always learn something about the other person, but by resisting the urge to jump in with “my story” or “my advice” I have a more meaningful conversation and a feeling of connection.

In his informative and entertaining book Intelligence For Your Life, John Tesh recalls the time he interviewed the master interviewer and anchorman, Ted Koppel. As John so beautifully phrased it;

Asking Mr. Koppel questions in a live TV interview is a bit like biking with Lance Armstrong. You’re working, he’s not.

John said when he began his interview with Mr. Koppel he had his first question all written out and perfectly phrased. He began with;

“Mr. Koppel, you’ve interviewed some of the most influential people in the world. What’s the secret to being a great interviewer?” I waited for his answer. When it came, it took me completely by surprise.
“I listen, John.”
“That’s it?” I asked in horror.
“Yes, that’s it. I listen. I listen more than I talk.”
He then proceeded to dissect the basic questioning technique used by the rest of us. Ask a question. Get an answer. Ask another unrelated question, get another answer. And so on until it’s time for the next commercial break.
Koppel listens. Then he asks a follow-up question based on what he hears. Not only does he get great answers, but he honors his guest with his rapt attention.
Mr. Koppel’s point was this: most of us, whether we are on television or not, have forgotten how to listen to each other. We have an agenda, and we are not willing to let listening get in the way of it.

If you ever watched the intensity in which Ted Koppel interviews someone, you should need no further proof of the power of listening.

Learning to listen empathically is both an art and a skill that pays large dividends. If you can learn to master the skills of effective listening, you will discover its little known, magical powers, and transform your relationships and your life beyond what you can presently imagine.

Author's Bio: 

Richard Fast, the author and creator of more than 30 toys, games, puzzles and books, has devoted the past twenty years into the research and development of his 29 DAYS template.

He, like the rest of us, had always been told that if you want to change your life just change your thoughts. But how can we change the way we think?

Richard discovered that we can change our fundamental thoughts into desirable new habits by following the same cognitive procedures that we used to create our existing habits.

Richard’s 29 DAYS template for change uses proven, scientific techniques, technology and online coaching, to guide you through a step-by-step process toward changing your thoughts and acquiring desirable new habits ... permanently.