“One of the best ways to persuade others is by listening to them.” – Dean Rusk
Listening is the most rudimentary of skills. However, you might be surprised that many people are not very good at it. Or perhaps you aren’t surprised, as you will likely have been on the receiving end of some bad listening in your time!
Have you ever made a request of a colleague, who has agreed to said request but has no memory of ever having heard you speak, let alone agree to the task? Have you ever had to repeat yourself many times in order to pull somebodies focus away from their daydreaming? Have you ever been one of these offending people? Yes… that’s right… you probably don’t listen to all that well sometimes either!
Listening skills can always be improved. It is also something that is vital to workplace communication of many kinds. A few ways to brush up are just below!
1. Listening vs. Hearing
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.
I mean, how many times have you been fully aware that somebody is talking, and giving them your best listening face, while thinking of something completely different, whether accidentally or on purpose?
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…
2. Dangerous Daydreaming
We have all drifted off from time to time. Perhaps you have a lot going on elsewhere or there is an e-mail from a colleague that you desperately need to reply to. You might even be thinking about what to order on your next coffee run! Daydreaming is natural and often happens when we have not decided to focus. Try to be conscious of when you drift.
3. Going Too Hard!
I often have this. Sometimes you can try so hard to listen, you 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. try to avoid getting caught up and wasting time with your inner voice.
Our phones… yes, those old things! Brilliant. But also such an attention drain. Ever found yourself attached to your screen mid-conversation? You must have. Do you even remember deciding to look at your phone, or was it just habit?
Distraction comes in so many forms, of course. 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 an interaction. Again… practicing being conscious and present with your habits will help to reduce this.
5. Just Be Present
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; no phones, no computers, no other people. No distractions.
If you can, take 5 minutes for some meditation to ensure that you are calm, centred, and ready to engage.
6. Other Vibes
Be conscious of whether or not you are giving off nonverbal signs that you might not be ‘fully in the room’. 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.
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 to your colleague also makes the recipient of that empathy feel supported even if agreeing on a topic is not possible.
By Chris Thomson
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