Have you ever tried talking to someone who wasn’t really listening to you?
My brother was the latest culprit for me. I was telling him a story and he was alternating between looking at me and staring at his phone. He wasn’t asking me any questions. He wasn’t nodding or giving me the expected “oh wow, really?”
Now to be fair, he was on his phone when I started talking. And I was pausing a lot (only for dramatic effect, of course). But still, he could have at least pretended to hear me.
Listening takes focus and attention. And in the workplace there are two key benefits to listening well:
- You’ll know more. Remembering and learning information begins with hearing it completely. It’s easy to make mistakes if you aren’t asking questions, writing things down and clarifying before you start. It’s easy to be in the dark if you aren’t paying attention to what’s being said.
- You’ll build stronger relationships. When someone listens fully to us we feel good. Giving a boss or employee your complete attention signals respect. It says “What you’re saying is important and it matters to me.” The same goes for listening well to customers (and sisters).
Now, you may think the ways to listen well are obvious. And in the above scenario with my brother, you’re right. If he had looked up from his phone, nodded and asked me a couple questions, I would have felt listened to.
But because the human brain is capable of processing information much faster than most people talk, it’s easy for our minds to wander. And if you never fully engage with the information you hear, you’re less likely to remember it. So listening well is also critical to retention.
Here are some listening techniques to help you engage and retain information:
- If you really can’t give the speaker your full attention, let him or her know. Ask them to pause for a moment while you quickly wrap up something.
- Face the speaker and make eye contact. Put your phone down. Turn away from your computer screen.
- Don’t bring your phone to business meetings. It signals that what’s happening in front of you is less important that the texts you’re expecting.
- Be a patient listener and don’t jump to conclusions or interrupt. You may think you understand the speaker’s point midway through, but keep listening. Whether you agree or disagree, keep it to yourself until the person is finished talking.
- Listen for the main idea. If someone is giving you loads of facts and little details, try to understand the primary point.
- Listen for the supporting points. Notice if they are driving the point home with emotional details or facts.
- Listen for content rather than paying attention to speaking tics, accents, mannerisms or the appearance of the speaker. These things can be very distracting.
- Ask questions so you completely understand (and to signal to the other person that you’re listening). “Do you mean …?”
- Take notes when the information is detailed. This will help you process the information and stay focused.
- Don’t offer advice unless you’re asked
Good listeners look at you when you talk, they ask questions, nod and appear truly interested. At work those same good listeners write things down, they don’t interrupt or offer advice.
Listening well takes conscious effort. Despite the fact that it’s a skill we use every day, listening well is harder than it sounds.