“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” – Bernard M. Baruch
We’d all of us, I think, like to think that we are good listeners, but we are part of a culture where it is acceptable to give in to distraction. To have good listening skills is to have the greatest tool for collaboration there is, and creativity and collaboration go hand in hand to move towards the greatest ideas and innovations.
Here are some thoughts on how to improve your listening skills…
When We Hear but Don’t Listen
‘Did you hear what I just said?’, you might remember someone once saying to you. You will answer that you did indeed hear what they had just said, even though your mind had wandered during the interaction. This was no lie on your part, whether or not you had adequately digested the information, because you did hear it. You will have heard words coming out of the other person’s mouth and been aware of their voice. The thing is, what the other person actually wanted to know was ‘were you listening?’
Listening is very different to hearing. To hear something does not require particular focus or engagement, it is simply an awareness of sound, it is passive. To listen is to apply focus to a specific voice or sound, to digest it and process it consciously. Our listening skills are not something we often earmark for improvement, but rest assured, adopting better listening habits will work wonders for your efficiency and your communication skills.
This improvement begins with first noticing what it is that gets in the way…
Yes indeed, distraction is one of the most prominent hindrances present in our everyday lives. So many entities are fighting for our attention daily that we are sure to fall foul and divert to other things sometimes. Our phones are some of the worst culprits. Have you ever found yourself attached to your screen mid-conversation? Do you even remember deciding to look at your phone, or was it just habit? A familiar situation, for sure. Distraction comes in so many forms; phones are not solely to blame. A busy workplace is full of sounds, requests, and people you might, if you are honest, be more interested in engaging with. Anything can distract us if we are not fully invested in a conversation.
We have all drifted off from time to time. Perhaps you have a lot going on at home, or there is an e-mail you desperately need to reply to or maybe you are just deciding what to have for lunch! Daydreaming is natural, and often happens when we have not decided to focus.
You may be aware that you need to be listening intently to something. Sometimes we are trying so hard to listen, we forget to actually listen! You think, ‘I must listen carefully to this’, or ‘I hope I look like I’m listening’, and by the time you have finished thinking about all this, you realise you have completely missed what it was you we supposed to be listening to.
How to Listen Mindfully
To listen is one thing, to listen mindfully is another. To listen mindfully is to listen with focus, without distraction and judgement. It is said that the average person only remembers around a quarter of what has just been discussed in any conversation. Mindful listening not only makes your partner in the conversation feel valued and attended to but also helps you to increase your retention.
To be present, all you need is to focus only on what is being said by the person who is saying it. So, take a few minutes before an interaction to clear your head of any thoughts and niggles that might cause your concentration to stray. Next, simplify your surroundings. This means no phones, no computers, no other people, basically, no distractions. This is what meeting rooms are for! If you have time, and it is appropriate, take 5 minutes for some meditation to ensure that you are calm, centred, and ready to engage.
Simply put, this is all about seeing the point of view of the other person. This is the best way to come to a solution in any given situation, as opposed to somebody ‘winning’ the interaction. Showing empathy also makes the recipient of that empathy feel supported even if agreeing on a topic is not possible.
Make sure that you are not giving off nonverbal signs that you might not be engaged. Letting your eyes wander, fidgeting, bored or vacant facial expressions or making attempts to move away are all signs to the speaker that you are not listening, not interested, or not allowing them to express their needs.
By Chris Thomson
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