THE BLOG
09/13/2011 11:29 am ET | Updated Nov 13, 2011

The Art of Listening

Have you ever noticed that the words listen and silent are spelled with the same letters? Perhaps this is no accident, because in many ways they mean the same thing. Have you ever talked to someone and walked away feeling enriched because they were such a good listener, even if they were a complete stranger?

This talent is what accounts for some of the best psychologists in the world -- and some of the best salespeople. Interestingly, the ability to listen is also the trait most people refer to in a great relationship partner or leader.

My own understanding of the power of listening came about many years ago, when I arrived for an appointment with a client of mine. He was a doctor, was having a bad day, had gotten home late and was running around trying to get ready for me. He and his wife were frazzled, and their 8-year-old daughter was bouncing off the walls, happy to have her parents home and craving their attention.

I remember being acutely aware of how much these people just needed some calm stillness more than anything else. It was one of the first moments where I really started to put my attention consciously on my clients, and I gave my attention 100 percent to this family.

I don't even remember what we spoke about. I mostly just listened to them. And within about 10 minutes, the doctor's daughter fell asleep on her mother's lap and the mother leaned back in her chair. The doctor loosened his tie, his breathing calmed and the frenzied atmosphere in the room relaxed. He turned to me at the end of the appointment and said I must have hypnotized his family. Half joking, he asked me if I could come and do the same thing at 5 p.m. every day.

Have some faith that the universe has brought you and the other person together for a more important reason than what you can get out of it in the moment. And if that's true, the only way we are going to see that purpose and reason is to become silent, to truly listen to the other person and see what happens next. And silence doesn't only mean refraining from speaking. It also means quieting the ongoing dialogue in our head -- the mental noise -- so that we can really focus on another person and what they are communicating to us.

The first thing that people often say to this is, "If I'm not looking out for myself, I'm going to get walked all over!" Many people assume that if they come from a position that isn't fixed, they're going to get taken advantage of.

I've actually found the opposite to be true: When another person isn't met with resistance, they then begin to back down from their fixed positions, which creates a space for something new to occur. And in that space, it often becomes easier to find the right course of action, because there isn't a sense of desperation driving you to try and get something specific from the situation.

It's also easier to protect yourself and make the right decisions when you're not coming from that needy place. So, for example, you might be going to a meeting, listening to the other person's proposal with your full attention and then saying, "No, I can't do that. It wouldn't be beneficial for both of us." It's not about you walking in and giving away the farm.

Give your attention completely to another person -- and see what happens. When you're in that space, you'll know exactly what decision to make when it comes to your relationships and your business. Unfortunately, too many of us spend our whole lives waiting to get something from the world so that we can show up as the person we always knew we could be. Deep in our hearts we think there's something missing. But when we flip that mindset, we can discover that by becoming a giver rather than a taker, we can become agents for change in the world.

Adapted from "Beyond Success: Redefining the Meaning of Prosperity" - © 2009 Jeffrey L. Gitterman - All rights reserved - Published by AMACOM Books - A Division of the American Management Association - www.amacombooks.org.