How to Really Listen

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Chris Cuomo, journalist, news anchor on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time, and a great friend. Chris, known as one of the world’s great interviewers, has a unique interviewing style in which he focuses on listening to the person he is interviewing, rather than guiding them to certain pre-set answers.

We can all stand to be better listeners, so in this interview, I asked Chris what tips he might have for us to help us be better listeners. His answer is in the following excerpt from our interview.

Marshall: Chris, what are some tips you have to help us be better listeners?

Chris: First problem is, preconceived notions. People often listen through filters. They’re listening for something specific. They’re listening to be resistant to or have acceptance of something that’s said. Listening is about being open.

The second part about listening that I think people forget is full contact. Look when you listen. Consider when you listen, because how someone communicates goes well beyond the verbiage. Because somebody could be feeding you a line, and their face will betray it, but their words will not. Their tone will not. You have to be open, you have to be locked in, and you have to be on all points of contact about listening. It’s the most neglected thing. You know why, Marshall? Because listening’s not about us in our minds. While someone else is speaking, we think, ‘No, I want to talk. You finish talking, so I can talk now, so we can be equal.’ Whereas as we all know, all our mothers told us the same thing, you don’t learn when you’re talking. You learn when you’re listening.

Marshall: You know, it’s interesting. In my courses, I teach something called feed forward. In feedforward you learn to ask for ideas, listen, and just say thank you. You can’t reply. You can’t argue. You can’t complain. You just say thank you. In one of my classes there was man that said, what you said reminded me of it, he said, “I listened better in this exercise than I almost ever listen in my life.” I asked him why. He said, “Normally when others speak to me, I’m so busy composing my next comment to prove how smart I am, I’m not really listening, I’m composing.”

The irony, he was a scientist with a Nobel Prize! A Nobel Prize winner in a management class worrying about sounding smart. You know what I said? “You got one Nobel Prize. You might not win two. It’s okay, let’s just declare victory here.” The point though is, even this person with that extremely positive background, still worried about sounding smart, and composing those comments in our head. And as you said, when we can get out of that need to prove how smart we are, listen to the other person, and fight that urge to compose our own thoughts while they’re speaking, we’re going to be a better listener.

Chris: Feedforward is the right phrase also. Some of the best questions are the shortest ones. Somebody says something. And you might ask, “Why?” “Such as?” “And then?” And you keep them going, and you’re absorbing more and more.

 

On June 20th, I was honored to be inducted into the Thinkers 50 Hall of Fame – whose members include the top management thinkers of our time.