3 Things You Can Do To Become A Better Listener Today
Let’s begin with the bad news;
Perfect listening ability is as unobtainable as Kryptonite. A critical part of communication, your listening skills are always under development, adapting and being tweaked with every interaction you have, both inside and outside of the workplace.
As such, we all have a shared goal, which is to be as good as we can be at listening to others, and ensuring that over time, we hone this skill to maximise every communication exchange we encounter.
Despite effective listening being challenging to master, this is not to say it is massively developed. Even the most effective communicators must work hard at developing listening skills. Three areas that can make a huge impact on how well you listen to others are active listening, asking questions, and being present in every interaction.
So, ‘listen up,’ as we take these three skills and expand on how to develop them.
Active listening is the art of demonstrating to the speaker that you are listening to them. A large part of actively listening is displaying the right body language. You can do this by turning to face the speaker, leaning ever-so-slightly forward, making eye contact, and considering your facial expressions (smiling is often the way to go, but not always, depending on the circumstances).
Nodding can also demonstrate to someone that you are listening to them, but be careful not to overdo this, lest you come across like Homer Simpson staring blankly and nodding as Ned Flanders explains apple cider versus apple juice.
Active listing can also be demonstrated verbally. Paraphrasing – repeating back what you just heard - can ensure you clear up any misunderstanding in the communication exchange. Asking questions, which we will come onto next, can also demonstrate understanding.
Asking Meaningful Questions
Asking questions might not seem like an important part of listening, but this is a great way to confirm understanding and find out more about what someone is talking to you about. Effective questioning can help you pick up on verbal cues in the interaction, and further the conversation to achieve a ‘win-win’ outcome.
Often, using open questions and probing questions will garner a lot of information. Open questions will give you detailed, informative answers, and frequently begin with “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” or “How,” whereas probing questions might build upon what you already know – through listening – to gain specific, high-value information. An example of a probing question is:
“What difficulties did you encounter when you tried this solution?”
Sometimes, closed questions can also be used as part of an effective listening technique, to form a conversational continuum. These are most effective when combined with open questions. For example, I could ask you a closed question:
“Are you enjoying this article?”
If, hopefully, you reply with “Yes”, my next question would be:
“Why are you enjoying it?”
Listening requires questioning to pick up on cues and advance the conversation. Questioning of course, requires listening.
Eliminate both physical and mental distractions. Examples of physical distractions could be computer screens, loud or disruptive colleagues (we all have them!), or smartphones. If you need to focus on a message, remove these things or go somewhere else to have the conversation.
Mental distraction concerns an inability to think clearly or with agility, to pick up on the message. If someone approaches you with a problem or some other serious matter, it might be tempting – and even reflexive – to start thinking about a response even as they are still talking. Focus on the message in its entirety, then formulate a repose.
If you are stressed or busy at work, then listening can be generally very challenging. Keeping yourself organised and in control of your work and schedule can lead to knock-on benefits regarding your listening ability.
There’s more to listening than meets the eye. It’s a tricky skill to develop, and a lot of how you might grow your listening ability may be from trial and error. Nevertheless, focusing on active listening, asking great questions, and being present in every interaction will help to ensure you are performing at your best when it comes to listening to others.