Listening is like putting money in the bank. When we listen we gain understanding and information. I believe that all of us can agree that if we gain understanding we can be more productive, influential and persuasive.
This is accomplished by being an “active” listener by making the deliberate effort to listen to and comprehend what another person is trying to say. This takes more effort than being a passive listener and not really making the extra effort to understand the meaning the speaker is trying to get across.” Again, I believe that we can agree that poor listening can result in costly mistakes with your customers, vendors, family and employees.
Here are five tips to improve your listening skills and promote effective communication:
1. Focus on the speaker – As difficult as it may be in a busy work environment, active listening requires that you stop doing everything else and just listen. Put down your phone or tablet. Clear your head of the distractions that keep you from focusing on the person you’re engaged with.
2. Don’t fake it – According to Bernard Ferrari, author of Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All, created a category called “bad listeners.” They regard conversations “as opportunities to broadcast their own status or ideas, or who spend more time formulating their next response than listening to their conversation partners.”
Watch for these bad listeners:
- The Opinionator: Someone who “listens to others primarily to determine whether or not their ideas conform to what he or she already believes to be true.”
- The Answer Man: Anyone who “spouts solutions before there is even a consensus about the challenge — a clear signal that input from conversation partners isn’t needed.”
- The Pretender: Individuals who “feign engagement and even agreement but either aren’t interested in what you’re saying or have already made up their minds.”
Good listeners do not form an opinion prematurely about what’s being said. They “wait until the speaker is finished before they create a response.
3. Pay attention to body language – Active listening involves leaning in toward the speaker, nodding at appropriate moments, and maintaining eye contact.
You should also pay close attention to the speaker’s posture and other nonverbal “tells,” such as gestures, tone of voice, and facial expressions. These will help you clue in on their attitudes and emotions, generating powerful insights that can help you in the course of negotiations or when trying to uncover an employee’s resistance to your new idea.
4. Paraphrase what you hear – You may think you get what the speaker is saying, until you attempt to restate their message in your own words. When they’ve finished speaking, paraphrase what they’ve said to make sure you’ve heard the actual meaning and intent of their words. Use phrases like,” I heard you say …. Is that correct?” or “If I understand correctly, your concern is ….”
5. Ask clarifying questions – A client, customer, associate or employee may not be as articulate as you’d like in voicing a complaint or request. It’s up to you to ask open-ended questions that help them get to the point so you can be sure to understand and respond appropriately. Asking relevant and clarifying questions demonstrates to the listener that you’ve been paying attention but would like a bit more information.
Actively listening requires a greater commitment, but enhanced communication will help you even more.
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