When we talk about communication, there’s often a focus on what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. This is important, but many forget that the other huge part of communicating effectively is listening.
The benefits of listening to your clients and colleagues are endless and it’s easier to become a better listener than you might think.
Here are our top tips for tuning into what others are saying so you can get the best out of every interaction.
‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply,’ Stephan R. Corvey tells us in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
We only remember about a quarter to half of what we hear, which isn’t great. The problem is, we’re too busy paying attention to what we think, instead of what’s being said.
A way to remedy this is to practice active listening. This means paying attention to the speaker: what they’re saying, their tone, body language etc and ensuring that you’re thinking about what they are saying, not your response to it.
Rearrange the letters in ‘listen’ and you end up with ‘silent’. Coincidence? Perhaps, but a serendipitous one, as many of us have a tendency to interrupt.
Keep silent and, more often than not, you’ll find the speaker addresses everything you need to know. If they don’t, you can always steer them in the right direction when they pause.
Silence can be daunting, but you can show support and encouragement with filler words, avoiding the need to interrupt and shut people down.
Use your body language
When executed properly, even a nod can speak volumes.
It’s important to be enthusiastic in order to encourage others in conversation, but you needn’t use words to do this. Body language accounts for over half of the messages we convey to others, according to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages.
To show agreement, try mirroring the other person’s body language; to show support, smile.
Show your commitment to listening by asking open questions that allow your client or colleague to really take the floor.
Trust the other person to tell you everything you need to hear in due course, and listen intently to everything, even if it feels irrelevant.
Remove all distractions
We’re often tempted by distraction, not least from our mobile phones.
How often have you been in a conversation that was cut off by someone picking up a call, or totally switching off after receiving a new message?
This may have become common practice, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.
Show the other person the respect they deserve and give them your undivided attention: put the phone away, turn off your computer screen and remove any other distractions.
Maybe not totally still, but if you’re a fidgeter try and control the urge and keep movement to a minimum. Many see fidgeting as a sign of boredom, distraction or agitation; none of which give a good impression.
If keeping still is really hard for you, try taking a walking meeting, or hold meetings in more comfortable, informal surroundings, like a coffee shop.
Listen, empathise, ask, paraphrase, summarise. That’s what Dr George J. Thompson teaches in Verbal Judo.
If you’ve undergone any conflict training, you may be familiar with this technique, as that’s chiefly what it’s designed to challenge.
As a listening tip, keeping LEAPS in mind will provide an easy and effective format to follow in stressful or challenging conversations where, although it’s tempting to talk, listening is what will lead to resolution.
Don’t be defensive
Feedback is integral to the modern work place, and at some point in your career, you’ll probably have a conversation addressing something you haven’t done so well.
No one likes to feel like they’re being criticised, but in these circumstances it’s crucial to apply your listening skills and keep those defensive daemons in check.
Take a deep breath, compose yourself and listen, because not only will you learn something, but the maturity this demonstrates will also say a lot about your character.
Show you care
Conversations usually have an agenda, and that’s okay, but if you have the time and it seems appropriate don’t be afraid to go off-topic. What many colleagues and clients want to know is that you care about them. What they’re saying may feel off-topic at the time, but who knows if it will benefit you further down the line?
Care about others and they’ll care about you (and your goals). It’s win-win.
Our time often comes at a high price: our attention. Be the exception. Practice being a better listener, communicate more effectively and start seeing the benefits of listening, rather than just hearing.