Every year on the 4th of July in the United States, I pause to appreciate the First Amendment to the Constitution, especially the protection of freedom of speech. My team and I help people build their public speaking skills so they can find the courage to speak up on behalf of the issues they care about, at work or in their community. No matter your political leaning, your voice needs to be heard.

This year, I’m reflecting on another courageous act: listening. 

We often listen in order to respond and not to understand. We may be thinking of the next thing to say or reflecting on what we have already said; we are not focusing on the person speaking. This happens in 1:1 phone conversations when you say, “m-hmm-hm without really reacting to what the other person said. It also happens in presentations when we lecture at our audience instead of engaging them in conversation.

Active listening can:

  • Help us learn: When we hear someone else’s perspective, it helps us more fully understand the subject.
  • Build stronger relationships: When we listen to others, they feel validated. Listening is a critical way to build trust.
Here is a framework for listening to others:
  • Ask: Before a speech, presentation, meeting, or conversation, think of open-ended and objective questions you can ask your audience that encourage thoughtful answers, such as: “How have you dealt with this?” Or “Can you help me understand your views on…”
  • Focus: Once you ask a question, focus on the person’s answer. Take notes if necessary, which signals that you care enough about the information to remember it.
  • Summarize and probe: Summarize what the other person said, such as “What I hear you saying is this…can you tell me more?” This shows that you are looking to understand not just what they said, but what they meant.
  • Pause and breathe: Once you’ve heard someone else’s views, reflect on them before responding. Our natural tendency is to reject something we don’t agree with; give yourself time to consider their view.

Listening comes from a place of respect for others and a belief that everyone has something valuable to say. You don’t have to agree with them to listen and learn from them.

I’m proud that our company is dedicated to helping people find their voice and their courage to speak. Now more than ever, our country needs courageous leaders to use their voice. Let’s also find the courage to listen to one another.

-Allison Shapira and the Global Public Speaking team