The Art of Listening

EIR Reflections: Week 6 of delta v

July 19, 2019
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This is part of an ongoing series of posts by our Entrepreneur in Residence, Kosta Ligris, focused on guidance for the student teams taking part in our MIT delta v accelerator.


“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”

–Bryant H. McGill

Much has been said and written about the importance of listening. And the distinction between hearing and listening has also been widely referenced by authors, speakers, and thought leaders as it relates to both business and life.

The fact is that the art of listening is a critical skill that will prove to be an essential tool in everything you do. Unfortunately for us, the average human attention span is considered by most researchers to be awfully low. Is it really just 8 seconds? Lower than the 9 seconds that a goldfish purportedly has according to this BBC article from back in 2017? And besides, how do you measure a goldfish’s attention?

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

–Bernard Baruch

Anyway, here are some tips I use that helped me become a better listener:

  • Ask questions.
    • This helps you stay engaged.
  • Don’t feel like you always have to take notes during an in-person meeting.
    • I like to do a post-meeting recap where I either take notes or send an email that memorializes the meeting or take-aways.
    • Figure out what works best for you; perhaps have a teammate be the note taker (just as we suggest for delta v board meetings).
  • Maintain eye contact with the person or people you are talking to.
    • Be present, look at body language, focus on the words that are being used, and those that are consciously being skipped (i.e., “read between the lines”).
  • Put the devices away. No phones, tablets, or computers.
  • Have an agenda of what you want to cover (especially when there is a hard stop).
  • Try using a web conference platform with video instead of a phone call when possible.
    • This allows you to stay more engaged with other parties and prevents distractions.
  • Don’t take important calls in the car.
    • I use down time in the car to return calls and handle logistical things, but never for a sales call, interview, or important call where full focus is needed.
  • Repeat a key concept or issue.
    • This allows you to process what’s being discussed as well as confirm details with the other party(ies).
  • Know when you need to talk and know when you need to listen.
    • Don’t judge or interrupt; let others finish their thoughts.
  • Don’t just listen to what is said, but pick up on what is not said.
    • This can give you key and relevant insights.
  • Don’t forget to breathe … think before you speak!
    • Usually “less is more” when you are speaking to customers. Let them tell their story and you can be a guide, not an interrupter.
    • Diogenes the Ancient Greek philosopher said, “We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.”

The United States Institute of Peace shares some core principles of active listening. Active listening is often used in therapy, dispute resolution, and the like. Take a look at 10 Steps To Effective Listening at Forbes. Also check out this quick TED video on “5 Ways To Listen Better” by Julian Treasure.

“The art of conversation lies in listening.”

–Malcom Forbes

I personally have always struggled at being a great listener. Like many, I am a constant work in progress. My experience has taught me to be a disciplined and active listener.  Whether you are talking to customers, resources, or your team, the art of listening is a powerful tool that you need to constantly sharpen and have at your disposal.

A well-trained listener can pick up what is being said, but also what is not being said, and that can and will translate to better decisions for you and your teams. In hindsight, I would have been able to predict certain things had I listened more. As Ernest Hemingway said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”

Don’t be like most people; be the one that stays attentive and engaged and I promise that you will be all the better for it.