We all spend lots of time listening to people. At least, we think we do. But I know my mind can drift to other things even when I want to concentrate on what someone’s saying. It’s difficult in our fast paced world full of distractions, to be truly attentive.
But it matters.
If you can listen effectively (i.e. by active listening) you’ll reap the rewards. Read on to discover what active listening is, how it will benefit you and how to do it.
What is active listening?
Active listening, as the phrase suggests, is something you have to do. It’s not just sitting there while someone else talks but showing you’re interested and paying attention.
I’m sure you’ve been in conversations where the other person was distracted, looking out of the window perhaps, or they just seemed miles away. How did that make you feel? Were you able to tell them what you intended or did you find it hard to continue the conversation?
In contrast, when you listen actively it can help the other person speak freely – they’ll see you’re interested and are less likely to fear judgment so are more likely to keep talking. You’ll get more opportunities to understand them and the conversation can proceed positively.
Active listening is a useful skill in all walks of life, including in the workplace.
How can active listening benefit me?
There are lots of reasons including…
- Improved working relationships
- Better understanding of tasks
- Improved productivity and workplace performance
- Self-empowerment and personal benefits
Think about it. You’re having an appraisal with your line manager and they congratulate you for a job well done, making a few suggestions too. But you look uninterested, hardly making eye contact. Will they look forward to future conversations with you? Might they even try to avoid you if possible? And did you hear what they said? Are you able to implement their suggestions? It’s easy to see how your working relationship and your performance at work could suffer.
If instead, you’re actively engaged with what they’re saying (more on how to do this later) it will reduce misunderstandings and mix-ups. You’ll have heard what your manager said plus any underlying meanings which will help you establish trust and rapport. You’ll find you’ve retained information better and understand the nature of your ongoing tasks so you can complete assignments efficiently, improving your productivity.
As you start to listen effectively, you’ll find your colleagues seek you out because you’re able to give them space to communicate fully and openly. They’ll come to you with new ideas and invitations to collaborate. Innovation will flow naturally because everyone’s comfortable sharing their best ideas and opinions.
You’ll feel energised, focused and less prone to distractions. Empowered and motivated to take more responsibility and influence your environment. And as your productivity increases your confidence will grow. Ultimately, you’ll be valued as the essential part of the company that you are. Maybe that promotion isn’t so far off after all…
How to listen effectively
First get your attitude right
- Accept someone as they are (acceptance)
- Make no moral judgments about their situation (genuineness)
- Get on the same wavelength as them (empathy)
This will create a safe, comfortable environment enabling the other person to talk. Easier said than done, I know. But if you’re aware of what you find hard to accept and the things you’re judging, you can at least choose not to react to them and try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. And please, don’t be put off – it’s perfectly normal to find this hard at first.
Then use these listening skills
1. Focus completely on the other person, on what they’re saying and their body language. You should aim to be totally present. And don’t multitask, including thinking about what you want to say next. Just listen and watch without interrupting.
2. Listen not only to a person’s words but also to their tone of voice and body language. This will give you clues as to how they’re feeling.
3. Seek clarification and explanation about what they’ve said:
- Ask appropriate questions to explore someone’s thoughts and feelings more deeply to help you understand what’s going on for them.
- Repeat back things they’ve said. This may feel odd or even silly at first, but it works. It proves you’re listening and shows the other person they’ve been heard. If you do happen to get something wrong, they also have the chance to correct you.
All these things show you’re doing your best to understand them.
4. Consider using encouraging words or sounds. Maybe a “hmm,” a “yes” or a “go on” to help them keep talking and to show you’re listening.
5. Learn to be comfortable with silence. It can be easy to talk for the sake of it to try and make someone feel better, but they may just be thinking or temporarily lost for words. If you fill the silence you may break a person’s train of thought or the rapport between you, and you may miss important information. Sitting quietly and attentively will show you value being with the other person more than what you may say.
6. Think about your body language. Eye contact, facial expressions, your position in relation to others – these things can all affect how people see you and whether someone feels comfortable talking to you.
People tend to feel encouraged when you…
- Make enough eye-contact to show you’re engaged, without staring
- Smile appropriately
- Sit in a relaxed, open position (no crossed arms or legs), perhaps leaning forward at times to show you’re interested and not directly opposite as this can seem threatening
Active listening is a valuable skill. When you’re able to engage with others in this way a world of opportunities will open up.
In the words of American Financier and Presidential Advisor, Bernard Baruch: “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”
Well said sir!