How to be an Effective Listener
In today’s fast-paced world, the race to be heard above the din of near-constant chatter and onslaught of non-stop information can be brutally tiresome. However, the late, great Stephen Covey said it best, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Keeping that thought in mind, the most successful people learn how to effectively listen to others. These 6 simple steps can transform you into an active listener.
1. Maintain eye contact.
Multitasking tends to be an every-day occurrence, however when it comes to listening, giving the speaker your truly undivided attention is key. Everywhere we look is a potential distraction, so ensure you keep good eye contact or at least turn to face them even if they don’t necessarily look at you.
2. Keep an open mind.
It’s important to listen without judging or mentally weighing in on the things being said. If you are of the mindset that you already know what the speaker “means to say” or the “feelings behind their words,” you are already undermining the conversation. Don’t let your brain insert feelings or words into what you are hearing. As the Austrian pianist, Alfred Brendel says, “The word LISTEN contains the same letters as the word SILENT.” So, silence your mind. Focus on what the other person is saying and keep any conclusions and judgmental thoughts quiet.
3. Don’t interrupt and impose your ‘solutions.’
Anytime you are about to interrupt during an important conversation, remember interruptions say more than the words you are about to interject. An interruption tells the speaker you think you are more important than they are, you don’t have time for their opinion, that you’re thoughts are more interesting, relevant or accurate, that instead of having a conversation, it’s actually a contest and you plan to win, or, and this is the worst, but most often received opinion about interruptions, that you really don’t care what the other person thinks. Imagine speaking with a small child who is just really learning to talk. If you’ve ever done this, you know how long it can take for a single thought to get across. But if you are patient and hear them out, the look of satisfaction and accomplishment on their faces is worth the wait. It also gives them the confidence to keep growing their skills and helps them build trust in you. These same basic principles apply to listening to your teammates, coworkers, and leaders. If you really must share your ideas, hear the speaker out first, then ask if they would like to hear your ideas.
4. Ask questions only to ensure understanding.
It’s tempting oftentimes to treat all conversations as a give and take with the ability to meander down side roads of off topic notions, however, effective listening requires the listener to be thoughtfully quiet, wait for the speaker to pause, and then only to ask relevant questions that are aimed at clarity. It’s completely acceptable to ask for the speaker to expand upon a thought or repeat the idea in another way to ensure you truly understand the message they are expressing.
5. Give the speaker regular feedback.
Without interrupting the flow, a well-timed ‘uh huh’ or ‘hmmm’, or a simple nod of the head expresses to the speaker that you are listening and engaged with their message. It’s also acceptable to add a personalized and appropriate to the conversation proof you are listening and understanding the emotional impact of the speaker’s words. A “that must be exciting” or “I’m so sorry for your loss” are examples of empathetic feedback.
6. Pay attention to nonverbal cues.
Facial expressions, tone of voice, and body movements oftentimes say more than the words a speaker is saying. Pay close attention and you can learn so much more than you expect. Have you ever called a friend and been able to hear the smile in their voice when they say “hello?” That simple smile tells you so many things; they are happy to hear from you, they are doing well, they are in a good mood. All nonverbal cues and feedback in one simple word.
Follow these steps and you will be well on your way to being an effective listener. As a leader in your organization, active and effective listening are important skills to have at the ready. Contact us today to learn more strategies for successful leadership and listening. Success begins with great leadership and we train great leaders.