Live interaction still matters. Teachers, meetings, presentations, one on one brainstorms–they can lead to real change. The listener has nearly as big a responsibility as the speaker does, though. And yet, Google reports four times as many matches for “how to speak” as “how to listen.” It’s not a passive act, not if you want to do it right.
If listening better leads to better speaking, then it becomes a competitive advantage.
Ask an entrepreneur leaving the office of a great VC like Fred Wilson. She’ll tell you that she gave the best pitch of her career–largely because of the audience. The hardest step in better listening is the first one: do it on purpose. Make the effort to actually be good at it.
Don’t worry so much about taking notes. Notes can be summarized in a memo (or a book) later.
Pay back the person who’s speaking with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm shown by the expression on your face, in your posture, in your questions.
Play back what you hear but in your own words, using your own situation. Don’t ask questions as much as make statements, building on what you just heard but making it your own. Take what you heard and make it the foundation for what you are trying on as your next idea.
If you disagree, wait a few beats, let the thought finish, and then explain why. Don’t challenge the speaker, challenge the idea.
The best way to honor someone who has said something smart and useful is to say something back that is smart and useful. The other way to honor them is to go do something with what you learned.
Good listeners get what they deserve–better speakers.