Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Top 5 Personal Strengths that Support Effective Listening

I've affirmed many times that listening is probably the #1 people skill. When two people get together, the ability to listen well is the key to a beneficial encounter more often than any other skill. Listening is also a component of several other interaction skills.

While some people are good listeners, most aren't. And very few indeed are great listeners. Probably everyone alive on Earth today could benefit from improving their listening skills.

In this space I've written a lot about listening and other people skills. And I've written a lot about personal strengths. But I've never related the two, except to say that these two very different areas of ability are at the core of everything we do.

In this post, I relate the ability to listen well to these Top 5 of the forty personal strengths. Engaging these strengths make it easier to listen well, and the failure to engage them make doing so very difficult.

Here they are, in no particular order...

Compassion. There's a lot more to effective listening than payiung attention. In order to really understand what someone is saying, you have to show you care about what the person is trying to tell you, stick with the conversation to hear the whole message, and verify your understanding. If the other person's feelings aren't important to you, you won't make the effort.

Focus. Listening effectively requires attending to both what is said and how a person feels about what is said - the verbal and the nonverbal messages. To absorb all these elements, you have to pay attention to them. You have to shift your focus away from other activities, unrelated thoughts, and external distractions.

Awareness. It isn't easy to pick up on nonverbal messages. You have to notice the little details - tone of voice, posture, facial expressions, and hand gestures. You can't check these out and relate them to what is said if you aren't aware of them.

Self-discipline. You may have the presence of mind to focus your attention and make an effort to be aware of the whole message, but the trick is to sustain this during the entire interchange. Your mind may want to wander. There may be distractions going on around you. And you have to resist talking when you should be listening. All this takes quite a bit of self-control.

Patience. Not everyone communicates the same way. A person who has something to say may not say it the way you prefer to hear it. You may hear a lot of detail before someone gets to the point. Or someone may hit you with the bottom line with no explanation. Or you may have to endure repetitiousness. Meanwhile, you may feel anxious because the other person isn't telling you what you feel you need to hear. It takes patience not to express your anxiety, to let the speaker communicate in his or her say own way.

Not all of us are blessed with an abundance of compassion, focus, awareness, self-discipline or patience. But we all have the ability to stretch. We can reach for more of one of these strengths when needed, especially when we know we have to. If you do, your interactions will go your way a lot more often.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2012. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from istockphoto.com)

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