Earlier this month, I flew to Zurich to attend the School of Life's three-day annual conference.
This global school for adults – co-founded and led by philosopher Alain de Botton – is dedicated to developing emotional intelligence, and uses psychology, philosophy and culture to help people understand and navigate everyday life.
It also helps businesses to become more emotionally intelligent and counts Google, Facebook, EY, PWC, the Guardian and Accenture as clients.
One thing that was covered was how to be a good listener. This is a skill that, I've noticed, is downplayed by those who already do it well, but is of huge comfort to those who are lucky enough to have a really good listener in their life.
Deep, active listening is difficult to master but probably the most important and admirable skill you'll ever work on.
Here are four good reasons why:
1. Good listeners have much empathy.
By making the time for someone, to let them be heard without judgment, to understand how they feel, to burden themselves with someone else's predicament or conundrum, and to offer comfort or help, you are making a genuine difference to someone's life.
Empathy is also the single most powerful tool needed for great management, and truly good managers will retain staff for longer.
2. Good listeners win more business.
If you need to find a supplier, perhaps a new PR or marketing person, or someone to build you a website or app, you are far more likely to enlist someone you have a good rapport with.
If that person has listened carefully to your concerns and requirements, asked intelligent questions, and reflected your answers and addressed your concerns in their proposal, you are far more likely to trust them with your project.
3. Good listeners are also good friends.
There is a good reason most of us cannot abide small talk. We walk away from some interactions feeling as though either we have failed, or been failed. Failed at what, you might well ask? The chance to have had a meaningful connection.
The School of Life teaches that human connection is one of the seven pillars of a meaningful life, and sharing details about ourselves that we normally keep hidden is key to creating those meaningful relationships. We probably share the most about ourselves with our friends, who - if you're lucky - are most likely among the very best listeners in your life.
4. Good listeners help us understand ourselves better.
TSoL explains that great listeners are also great editors. As they listen to our stories, they simultaneously edit them, gently teasing out deeper details like feelings, drawing us away from boring surface details likes dates and times, and tweaking what has been said to give the speaker more clarity.
In short, they listen actively, not passively, and help us to better understand ourselves and who we are.
It's all summarised in this seven-minute video. Do give it a watch, it's well worth your time: