New research explains how humility and being a good listener go hand in hand

A new study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology finds that attentive, mindful listening increases the level of humility in any conversation, resulting in a positive feedback loop of increased humility and better listening.

To explain the inspiration for the study, lead author Michal Lehmann of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem recounts the overwhelming emotions she went through as a new parent. She says humility, or the revelation that she was not the center of the world but part of something much bigger, brought her relief and helped her face the challenges of parenthood without fear. .

“After discovering that magic was humility, I was interested in finding ways to increase people’s momentary humility,” says Lehmann. “Because humility is also the ability to see the complexities of self and the world, I thought anything that increases complex views would increase humility.”

Lehmann’s lab had done preliminary research showing that attitudinal complexity increases when someone engages in high-quality listening. Therefore, they hypothesized that high-quality listening would also increase humility.

The researchers tested this hypothesis with different experimental designs and found that indeed, listening increased the state of humility of both parties to the conversation: the listener and the speaker, but especially the listener.

Specifically, their research focused on two types of humility:

  1. Interpersonal humility refers to observable behaviors that are considered humble, such as acknowledging the strengths and contributions of others, openness to feedback, and a general orientation toward the needs of others.
  2. Intrapersonal humility refers to a person’s ability to see themselves accurately, including their strengths and weaknesses, and to recognize their fallibility.

“I believe that the two types of humility are inseparable and one cannot exist without the other,” says Lehmann.

According to Lehmann, being an unskilled or poor listener can affect one’s life in several ways. She mentions two:

  1. Quality of relationships. Being a bad listener can make your closest relationships shallow and meaningless.
  2. Performance quality. Being a bad listener can affect the quality of service you provide as you might not be on the same page as your team, stakeholders or customers. For example, salespeople who listen badly have bad sales numbers, doctors who listen badly are more likely to be sued for malpractice, and managers who listen badly are less likely to have subordinates willing to follow them.

Conversely, Lehmann highlights situations where excessive humility might cost the individual rather than help, such as when an individual hides significant accomplishments in order to be humble.

“I think people should be smart about when is the best time to talk about their accomplishments and their strengths – on the one hand not hiding them, and certainly not bragging about them, and always being sensitive to others around them. and their possible responses,” says Lehmann.

Peers and supervisors can humbly take advantage of people in certain situations and not necessarily reciprocate favorably for such behaviors, Lehmann warns.

For people who want to become better listeners, Lehmann has the following advice:

  • Don’t be afraid of silence. According to Lehmann, moments of silence are essential to building a good conversation. Allow yourself silence to allow the other to speak.
  • Believe in the benefits of listening. Lehmann recommends becoming familiar with the benefits of listening for both sides of the conversation (the listener and the speaker) so that one can feel motivated to become a better listener.

A full interview with psychologist Michal Lehmann discussing her new research on humility and listening can be found here: If you have this quality, it means you are a good listener.


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