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I don’t take pictures, the pictures take me.” – photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson

What is it about the corporate environment that makes listening such a difficult-to-achieve skill?

A sampling of the 345m Google search results from the phrase “listen better”:

  • Fast Company: How One Simple Change Can Make You A Better Listener
  • Forbes: 10 Steps To Effective Listening
  • Harvard Business Review: Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Better Listener

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, argues that there is a cultural bias towards extroverts in the business world because we tend to favor action over contemplation and charismatic over bland personalities. Yet, considering a third to half of the population are introverts, it would behoove us to reconsider. Especially since, introverts “listen more than they talk, think before they speak.”

In fact, according to Adam Grant of the Wharton School and Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School:

“In a dynamic, unpredictable environment, introverts are often more effective leaders—particularly when workers are proactive, offering ideas for improving the business. Such behavior can make extroverted leaders feel threatened. In contrast, introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions, making them more effective leaders of vocal teams.”

While listening may come naturally to introverts, are there ways to effectively cultivate it (besides reading how-to articles)?

I recommend a creative outlet. The link between listening and creativity is tied to relinquishing control. We have to let go of the outcome, be receptive and embody vulnerability to truly explore an idea and, in fact, a conversation. The act of being able to live for an extended period of time in ambiguity requires the same mentality whether creating a new type of art or listening to an unfolding discussion.

A frequent refrain from artists is that the material “speaks” to them. Whether your material is a blank canvas or an employee, letting creative ideas surface requires the act of listening. Give it a try and you may be surprised by the results.

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