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  • Writer's pictureBarb Bickford

Listening skills are rooted in curiosity

Updated: May 2


Four women sitting around a table, listening intently to each other.  Photo credit: Linked In Sales Solutions on Unsplash

Leadership training often aims to help leaders improve their communications skills because communication is integral to helping people work together well.


However, have you ever noticed that -- even though communication consists of both speaking and listening -- most communication courses are about speaking?


And, when communication courses do address listening, they often equate listening skills with adopting particular behaviors. They tell us to "show we are listening" by:

  • leaning forward,

  • looking the speaker in the eyes,

  • saying ‘mm’ and nodding affirmatively,

  • repeating back what the speaker said, and

  • not interrupting.

There are some problems with equating listening with behaviors. One is that the particular behaviors that "show you are listening" may vary from culture to culture. Here are examples of how people might interpret two of the above behaviors differently:

  • Looking a speaker in the eye might be seen as threatening rather than inviting.

  • Interrupting and exclaiming things may be welcome and even expected signs that the listener really is listening.

Yes, listeners do well to understand and adapt to the speaker's communication culture.


But listening isn't just about particular behaviors or behaviors in general. It's also a mindset. It's about curiosity.


Truly curious listeners are able to convey their sincere interest regardless of visible behavior. In fact, most of us easily detect the insincerity of listeners who may be using behaviors to "show they are listening" but who are actually distracted or don't really want to listen to us.


Think about it. When was the last time someone listened to you with real curiosity? Which mattered more to you: how they listened (their behaviors) or why they listened (their curiosity)? How did you know? How did you feel about the person who listened to you?


"Curiosity is an essential part of listening". The upper photo is of two women leaning toward eachother and smiling.  The lower photo is a man resting his head on his hands, looking intently at a woman.

Curiosity is an essential part of listening. It creates connections and strengthens relationships.

Curiosity has other benefits:

  • It feeds a lifelong love of learning,

  • It enhances memory retention and problem-solving skills,

  • It strengthens a person's ability to work with others,

  • It helps people have a deeper understanding of themselves and others, and

  • It helps people achieve greater job satisfaction.

Curiosity also supports our feelings of personal well-being. When someone listens to me with sincere curiosity, I always feel better afterward. I even recall a time when someone kept me alive because they listened. They let me know I mattered. If curiosity and curious listening are this valuable, I wonder if we leaders should pay more attention to being curious ourselves and fostering curiosity in the people with whom we work and live.


Here's a question for you: How might we deliberately foster curiosity in meetings? Please share in the comments below! I'm curious!


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