Most people believe that listening is easy, and that they are good listeners. But effective listening is really an active process, not a passive one. Studies have shown that listening takes up about 45% of a typical day, so being good at it is essential, particularly in business situations. Fortunately, listening is a skill that can be learned.
Here are some of the symptoms of “lousy listening.”
- You find yourself in a meeting or work event, running versions of what you’re going to say when it’s your turn to speak over and over in your mind.
- Your attention wanders, and when you “come back” you realize you’ve got no idea what’s been said. (Oops!)
- You have an emotional reaction to something that’s said, get stuck there and never move on with the rest of the conversation or meeting.
- You meet with a client, and realize afterward that you did all the talking. (This is not good on dates, either!)
If any of these scenarios ring a bell, you need to improve your listening skills.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey
Lousy listening can cost you promotions, lose you clients, cause you to make mistakes, and hinder your overall ability to be outstanding at what you do.
Distractions such as external noise make it harder to hear what’s being said, but what about internal noise? This is the kind of noise you can do something about. It’s generally caused by your personal attitudes, toward the topic, the speaker, or even toward yourself. If you are nervous about what you have to say, you will find it hard to concentrate while others are speaking. If you don’t like the person or the topic, you will also find it hard to listen effectively. These are but some of the causes of internal noise.
Try some of these tips to strengthen your listening skills:
- Don’t multi-task. Give the speaker your full attention, with no texting, side conversations, or fiddling with paperwork.
- Use your body language to help connect with the speaker. This could be leaning forward attentively in your chair, keeping your arms uncrossed, and making eye contact (smiling and nodding where appropriate.)
- Give verbal responses that will acknowledge or reinforce the speaker’s message. This could include remarks such as, “I see,” “Tell me more,” “That makes sense,” etc.
- Ask great questions. Not to challenge the speaker, but to show that you are listening, are intrigued, and genuinely want to hear more.
- Take notes. This is a fantastic way to keep your focus, because obviously you can’t write it down if you aren’t listening. Note taking also communicates that you find what is being said important enough to write down. You can jot down questions, points of interest, or anything you have a reaction to.
For more information about how to improve your listening skills, I recommend my new mini book, The Art of Listening: How to Get the Point and Get Ahead.