Listening seems like a pretty basic skill that doesn’t take much thought. If we can hear, we can listen, right? Wrong. Hearing and listening are two very different things. What gets me about listening is that we’ve had very little formal instruction on effective listening, yet we spend plenty of time training to effectively read, write and speak… and it’s one of the most important skills you will need to be successful. Poor listening can result in low morale, low productivity, high turnover rates and mistakes left and right.
Do you ever find yourself hearing words, but not really taking in what a person is saying? Do you find yourself daydreaming that you are not in the office but at the beach with your soulmate? (I’m talking about your dog of course) It’s very easy to drift off and focus on other things, we’re human. However, listening is one of the most important skills you can have in your career, and in your life, so here are some tips to improve your skills:
Make eye contact. It is very difficult for someone to feel as though they are effectively communicating with you if you are not looking at them…it’s not a great feeling to be brushed aside.
Take the time. If you are working on a project that is consuming all of your time, or you have to dash off to a meeting in a few, tell the person that you would like to have more time to talk with them, and schedule a better time. This shows that they are important to you.
Reflect feeling. If you feel as though a person is sad, say so. “This seems to be making you a little down.”
Shut up. Stop talking so much, and listen more.
Don’t relate everything back to you. It’s very easy to make the conversation about you, but don’t. Sometimes it’s about the other person. Let them talk.
Let there be uncomfortable silences. Don’t feel like you need to needlessly speak to avoid these silences. Rather, wait and give the person some time to think and speak.
Repeat back a brief summary of what the person has said. This will reassure the person that they have been heard, as well as to make sure you have heard everything correctly.
Ask the person to repeat. I’m at the tail end of my twenties, so my mind naturally wanders a lot in my old age. (the real problem is I get 100% distracted by anything as small as a bird flying by). I find the best way to handle my condition is to be honest about it. Tell the person that you had a brief brain fart and to repeat what they just said. Honesty is better received than guessing games.