In business or in life, one of the most valuable skills to master is listening, yet, according to Nikki Bishop and Bruce Smith in a presentation at the 2016 Emerson Global Users Exchange, less than 2% of all professionals have had formal education or learning to understand and improve listening skills and technique.
While few managers or human resources professionals make good listening skills a prerequisite for employment, executive sales coach Keith Rosen points out that ability to actively listen has been proven to dramatically improve the capabilities of a professional salesperson. “Most of the time we believe listening is simply hearing the words coming out of the client’s mouth,” he said in a recent article. But listening is much more than that.
Active listening is a complex process that is a learned skill; it takes concentration, patience, and conscious emotional and intellectual effort. But the results are well worth the effort.
The Price of Poor Listening
It’s said that more than 60% of all problems existing between people and within businesses is a result of faulty communication. Poor listening can result in mistakes and misunderstandings and can damage relationships and deteriorate trust with clients and colleagues. The price of poor listening can go far beyond lost business opportunities; it can result in accidents and injuries.
In these next few weeks, you will undoubtedly attend many professional and social gatherings. Additionally, the new year is rapidly approaching, full of political and business challenges. So, to give you an advantage in these opportunities to listen, we offer a simple exercise to help you analyze your own listening skills, and some suggestions to improve this most important aspect of communication.
Are You a Good Listener?
The following questions are reproduced from “50 Communications Activities, Icebreakers, and Exercises, by Peter R. Garber.”1 Read them and ask yourself if any of them apply to you or to how you listen. Be honest with yourself!
- I interrupt often or try to finish the other person’s sentences.
- I jump to conclusions.
- I often answer with advice, even when not requested.
- I make up my mind before I have all the information.
- I am impatient.
- I lose my temper when hearing things I don’t agree with.
- I try to change the subject to something that relates to my own experiences.
- I think more about my reply while the other person is speaking than what he or she is saying.
How did you make out? Most of us probably have several of these bad listening habits. While they can create awkward or uncomfortable situations in a family or social setting, these habits can impede performance or could lead to misunderstandings that create serious problems on the job.
Six Ways to Be a Better Listener
1. Eliminate distractions
One of the most important aspects of being a good listener is to eliminate distractions. How often do you see people checking their phones or glancing toward the e-mail on their computers when you’re in a meeting? Distracted listening is not good listening. Despite popular wisdom to the contrary, we cannot multi-task effectively.
2. Do Not Listen to Respond
If you are formulating a response while someone else is talking, then you are not mindfully listening to what they are saying. Listen to listen. Take a moment afterward to formulate a response (if you are asked for one) based on all the information you just received.
3. Do Not Interrupt
No explanation required here!
One of the most difficult things for busy people is to stay focused on the present, on the conversation at hand, but this is one of the essentials of being a good listener. Ponder later what you’re picking up for dinner. Listen to the entire message and ask for clarification if needed. Repeat back to ensure that you heard correctly.
5. Be a Solution Oriented Listener
That does not mean that you listen only to respond; it means that you listen to the problem but also listen for the solution that whoever is speaking might be offering, consciously or unconsciously. If you are speaking with a client who is looking for a process control solution, they may already have an idea of how to solve their own problem, they just don’t know it. By listening carefully to everything they are saying, you may be able to hear the solution and reflect it back to them, or modify with your own solution.
6. Be Mindful of Body Language
Pay attention to the body language of the speaker, because much of what is being communicated is non-verbal. And be mindful of your own body language. Leaning forward, maintaining eye contact, cocking your head… these are all cues to your speaker that you are listening and assure them you are paying attention.
You can become a better listener; you just have to be mindful and practice better listening. The first step is the awareness you hopefully have gleaned from this article; the next step is to make a plan and stick to it.
Keith Rosen put it all into perspective when he wrote, “All anyone wants in a conversation is to be heard and acknowledged. Notice what happens when you give someone the gift of your attention and listening. They will want to reciprocate. It’s always a great time to begin giving a gift to others that costs nothing to give.”
1 Amherst, MA, HRD Press, 2008