The Art of Listening — An Important Insurance Industry Skill


Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a very busy man. He’s the Chief Innovation Officer at ManpowerGroup as well as a professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University, and the cofounder of

Chamorro-Premuzic is also an associate at Harvards Entrepreneurial Finance Lab.

In addition to knowing all things titled innovation, and as professor of psychology, Chamorro-Premuzic is an expert on something many of us have never mastered. That’s the art of listening.

In his mind, it’s much more simple than one expects. Here’s the formula:

Shut up



“High-quality listening is an underrated ability,” he writes. “How well and frequently you listen to others is a better predictor of your leadership potential than your actual intelligence or personality.”

Chamorro-Premuzic says good listeners perform better at work, tend to have a better sense of self and self-worth, well-being, and have more meaningful and fulfilling relationships. They are also more trusted by friends, associates and others, and are seen as curious, empathetic and emotionally intelligent.

“To some degree, the power of listening can be explained by the fact that good listening is rare. We live in a world in which people are often rewarded for self-promoting, being the center of attention, and talking as much as they can, even when they have nothing to say,” he said.

It’s those people — and others — who aren’t convinced listening is all that important. Many will happily — he says — suggest that activity to everyone else. Which brings us back to Chamorro-Premuzic’s formula for becoming a better listener.

Shut up



Not so-surprisingly, he said this formula is easier said than done. To get there, Chamorro-Premuzic notes, we have to work on four key ingredients that will make us quality listeners,

The first is focus.

“A simple reason most people struggle with listening, even when they have the intention to doing so, is that they fail to provide their undivided attention. Distractions, stress, worries, and multitasking all interfere with high quality listening, as we all know from everyday experience,” Chamorro-Premuzic wrote. “Contrary to popular belief, tasks that require active attention cannot be done simultaneously. Multitasking is a bit like intuition, sense of humor, or musical taste: just because we think we are good at it doesnt mean we actually are. You may continue to multitask while you Zoom into crowded work meetings, but lets not equate that to listening. If you truly intend to listen, you have to focus — period.”

Next up is empathy. He says most people can display basic empathy and can see things from the perspective of others, but we don’t always do that.

“Stepping outside our ego cocoon and making an effort to put ourselves in someone elses shoes, will significantly improve our listening skills,” he said. “This is obviously easier when we care about the person, but humans are capable of being open and considerate towards others even in the absence of feelings towards them. In fact, if we truly want to create a more diverse and inclusive world then we cannot just rely on our empathy (whether we feel something for the other person) but must also exercise rational kindness and compassion.”

Now, add self-control to the mix. An impulsive interruption can destroy the momentum of a conversation and have negative consequences.

“Unless you can control your emotions, whether positive or negative, you will jump in too soon, without letting people make their point. This is why mindfulness is a consistent predictor of better listening,” Chamorro-Premuzic wrote. “Waiting for the other person to finish, and even counting two or three seconds after theyve gone quiet, is a simple exercise to keep your feelings and thoughts under control. Even if you feel you are right, or you dont like what you are hearing, you will be much more likely to win the argument if you wait until the other person finishes unless you dont want them to listen to you. And if you really dont care about what the other person is saying, then dont waste your energies interrupting them.”

Last up is inclusion. You must make sure the person you’re listening to knows you’re listening.

“In other words, what you want is to harness a reputation for being a good listener. So, when your turn eventually arrives, and it is you who needs to speak, make sure you incorporate the other persons perspective, reference what they said, and react to their narrative and arguments,” Chamorro-Premuzic emphasizes. “Many people learn to wait for their turn, only to deliver a speech they had planned before, perhaps while successfully pretending to listen to the other person. In short, include the other person in your story, so you can make it easier for them to empathize… and listen to you.”

The bottom-line, he adds, is that listening is no different than other skills you’ve acquired.

“Some people have more potential than others, but in the end, we all need to practice in order to get better,” he concludes. “Getting feedback from others — people who observe us during calls, meetings, discussions — is essential for improving, especially if they are able to call us out when we dont listen, and if being told that we are a bad listener makes us feel guilty enough to want to change it. If it does, it is at least a sign that we were listening.”   

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The Professional Insurance Agents Western Alliance is a membership organization promoting and enhancing the success of independent agencies seeking to grow, learn and be heard within the industry.


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