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This important skill helped Howard Stern earn $90 million a year—here's how he got even better at it

Tom Popomaronis, Contributor
Howard Stern

The most successful people in the world have one thing in common: They're great communicators. The ability to hold meaningful conversations with co-workers, bosses, friends or even strangers is one of the most powerful skills worth cultivating.

Just look at Howard Stern, the SiriusXM radio host who has been credited as one of the best interviewers in media. While some might find his unapologetically abrasive and inappropriate tendencies unappealing, it's hard to deny that he's incredibly skilled at having insightful and engaging interviews.

In fact, that skill alone has helped earn him a lofty $90 million a year, making him the highest-paid radio host, according to Forbes. At 65, Stern has hosted some of the most memorable interviews in history. In his best-selling new memoir, "Howard Stern Comes Again," the radio host offers a deeply emotional look into how he's refined his conversational style.

Therapy taught him how to be a better listener

Despite having massive success, Stern acknowledges in the book that he's made poor communication choices in the past. "I was an absolute maniac," he writes. "My narcissism was so strong that I was incapable of appreciating what somebody else might be feeling."

Stern says going to therapy transformed the way interacted with his guests, and it made him an even better communicator.

"I found myself changing my approach because I had experienced what it was like to have someone genuinely interested me," says Stern. "It led me to think, You know, somebody else might actually have something to say. Let's just sit here and listen and not make it all about you."

He continues: "At first, not making it about me was difficult. I had to learn to say no to myself. Stop talking. Start listening. Let someone else shine and have a moment."

The power of active listening

To be fair, Stern has always been a great listener. In fact, what makes him one of the greatest communicators of all time is his ability to be an active listener, according to speech and language pathologist Simon Friedman.

You can't be an effective communicator if you don't have active listening skills, Friedman explains in a blog post. He says that too many interviewers make the mistake of asking a question and then immediately start thinking about what they'll say next — without even paying attention to the other person's response.

"Your brain can't hear and process what an individual is saying if you're too busy formulating your next thought," he says. "It's important to be an active listener by focusing on their response and paraphrasing it back to them. This is a skill Howard has already mastered."

In her popular TED talk about how to be a better communicator, public radio broadcaster Celeste Headlee stresses the same point.

"I cannot tell you how many really important people have said that listening is the most valuable skill that you could develop," she says. "Buddha said, and I'm paraphrasing, 'If your mouth is open, you're not learning.' And Calvin Coolidge said, 'No man ever listened his way out of a job.'"

Tom Popomaronis is a commerce expert and proud Baltimore native. Currently, he is the Senior Director of Product Innovation at the Hawkins Group. His work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company and The Washington Post. In 2014, he was named one of the "40 Under 40" by the Baltimore Business Journal.

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