Listening Isn't Easy

Listening is probably the most misunderstood communication process we use.  Your manager is right to suggest you improve your skills. It takes some work, focus, and patience but it can be done. And, your better listening skills will not only be useful at work, they will help you with any relationship!

Let’s start with what listening isn’t—it’s not, when the other person is talking, waiting for your turn to talk.  If that’s your approach to listening, that means you probably aren’t even hearing what the other person is saying—you’ve focused on preparing what you’re going to say when they finish!

Listening takes concentration and it is hard work for most of us.  We spend a lot of time in school learning how to read and write, but little time on how to listen.  A good listener makes a deliberate effort to understand the other person’s message.  A good listener listens to learn, is interested in what the speaker is saying and lets the speaker know they’re listening.

If you’re serious about being a better listening, consider what’s called “active listening.”  It’s the most powerful way to capture the entire message the speaker is attempting to convey.  Here’s how it works:

While the speaker is talking, the active listener encourages the speaker to share by nodding, maintaining eye contact, a raised eyebrow, or a smile.  These cues let the speaker know you hear them and want to know more.  However, you have to really mean it—if you aren’t sincere, the speaker will probably not want to continue to talk to you!

Another active listening technique is to paraphrase what you heard the speaker say.  “I heard you say that my department needs to respond more positively to requests from your staff. “  Then, if that’s not what the speaker intended, the information can be clarified—but they will know you were listening!

As you work to improve your listening skills, consider what gets in your way. Maybe it is that you’re distracted by external noise or other people. If so, when you find yourself in that situation, ask the speaker if you can move to a quieter location.  Maybe the timing is bad—you’re on a tight deadline and can’t focus.  Ask if you can postpone the discussion until you can give it full attention.  Maybe the speaker uses words or phrases you don’t understand—ask for clarification. Listening is such a critical skill, that we devoted a whole chapter to the subject in The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook.

As John Marshall, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said, “To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.”

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