by Marcus Straub

Ineffective communication, whether in business or life, presents the biggest obstacle to any successful relationship.
And it all begins with listening.

Not truly listening to others lies at the heart of everything from disgruntled team members and unsatisfied customers to failed marriages and disassociation with family.

Consider your professional and personal relationships to understand the importance of communication. In those relationships you consider most successful and fulfilling, you likely feel heard and understood. When you consider your relationships that are least successful and cause the most frustration and suffering, you likely don’t feel heard. Communication is so limited the relationship suffers as a result.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself: Do you like it when others truly listen to you? Do you have greater rapport and trust with those who listen to you? Do you feel acknowledged, respected and valued when others really listen to what you say? In other words, do you like it when others care enough to be present with you in their listening? Are you listening to others the way you want them to listen to you? If not, why not?

Effective listening constitutes one of the most fundamental and powerful communication tools of all. The first step to improvement is to understand what you should do or stop doing. As you learn to stop talking or thinking and develop the habit of truly listening, your interactions will become more pleasant and successful.

Several sabotaging behaviors–or blockers–limit listening abilities. These include:
  • Multitasking: Rather than pay attention to the person talking to you, you divide your time and attention among two or more things.
  • Placating: You agree with everything the other person says to get along or be liked or because you aren’t truly listening.
  • Derailing: You derail the train of conversation with sudden changes to the topic or make jokes as you become bored or uncomfortable.
  • Rehearsing: You focus on preparing what you’ll say next.
  • Judging: You prejudge the person you’re talking with and use negative labels to do so.
  • Dreaming or drifting: Your attention drifts away from the conversation — to things you need to get done, an unresolved issue in your life or vacation you want to take.
  • Identifying: You use the stories of others as a reference point to tell your own at the expense of theirs.
  • Being Right: You focus on arranging information, saying things or acting in ways so as to not be wrong.
  • Advising: You believe you have the answer to the other person’s situation and offer advice rather than truly listen.
  • Sparring: You look for things over which to disagree.
Do you engage in any of these listening blocks? Some of them? All of them? Not sure?

Participants in my communication trainings are often astounded to learn how much they unknowingly sabotage their professional and personal relationships by not listening. Reversing this and becoming someone who truly listens is simple once you are taught how.

Stephen Covey, the educator and author, put it this way: 

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Yet, the truth is this: We all want to be heard and understood.

Successful relationships of all kinds rest firmly on the ability of those involved to effectively communicate. But most of us aren’t taught how to communicate with the intention of understanding, finding solutions and building relationships. In business, not listening effectively to others can be the difference between success and failure.

Developing the powerful habit of truly listening is the first step in becoming an effective communicator and creating more successful professional and personal relationships. If you’re endeavoring to build a successful business or increase the effectiveness of your team, I encourage you to begin with the foundational competency of listening.

Marcus Straub


Marcus Straub is Founder and CEO of Life Is Great!™ (LIG) Coaching and Consulting, Inc. based in Grand Junction, Colorado.

This article was written for and published in collaboration with The Business Times newspaper.