A lesson from Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s play are littered with words of wisdom, my favourites are those he puts into Polonius’ mouth in Hamlet. Polonius is something of a buffoon and ends up paying the ultimate price (as many of the characters in Hamlet do), but there are one or two gems in the advice he gives to his son, Leartes.

After advising him to hold his tongue and not act on ‘unproportioned’ (reckless) thoughts, he says:

‘ Give every man thy ear but few thy voice; Take each man’s censure (opinion), but reserve thy judgement.’

I love that line about giving every man thy ear. In so many of the workshops I do I include the practice of listening – listening is, in my view, the most underrated of the skills we use at work. So often (perhaps 80 or 90% of the time) when we enter into a conversation we do so thinking about what it is we want to say, rather than wondering what it is we can hear and learn. And how often do we jump in with our opinion or judgement before we’ve helped to establish all the facts and gathered all the information?

Listening to a colleague or customer, gives us knowledge, understanding, insight, and possibly power as well. If we listen attentively, we give the speaker the confidence and time to develop and clearly express their thoughts, ideas, feelings etc. A manager who listens well can increase self-esteem, creativity and motivation of their staff. In a selling situation, Listening is as the heart of the consultative process by which we find out what our clients and customers really want, and this puts us in a better position to meet their needs.

Who have you listened to today?

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