There is no question that good listening skills are critical to developing and maintaining effective relationships. A lack of listening skills can cost you greatly, resulting in mistakes, misunderstandings, unachieved goals, financial loss, and strained client relations, just to name a few.
Listening is a skill that can help you build a strong rapport with others, and one that will allow you to influence and manage in a respectful and collaborative manner. Being a good listener requires more than just receiving messages. It requires you to take an active role in a conversation by providing the speaker with verbal and nonverbal cues that you are paying careful attention to what is being said.
Think back on some of the best conversationalists you’ve met over the years, and you’re likely to recall those who listened more than spoke, made you feel like nothing else in the world mattered but your ideas, and asked you a lot of great questions based on what you were communicating.
Here are some key tips to help you become a better listener:
Make sure the other person is speaking more than you.
Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, in her article “How To Really Listen to Others,” recommends listening 75% and speaking only 25% of the time in a conversation. Following this rule of thumb will help you to monitor your listening activity, and ensure you are not monopolizing the conversation.
Restate the central ideas of a conversation.
When the speaker pauses, prove you are paying attention by clarifying the central ideas presented. This will not only cue the speaker in that you are listening, but will allow you to absorb the central ideas better.
Ask follow-up questions.
Another way to clarify and reflect back on a speaker’s thoughts is to ask pointed questions about what was stated. This allows for the volley of presented ideas and possibly the emergence of new ones.
Focus on the speaker.
Be present while engaging in active listening. Don’t doodle, check your phone, or look at your watch. Focus on what is being said, and even on what isn’t being said through nonverbal cues, like tone, pitch, and rate of speech.
Encourage the speaker with nonverbal cues.
Let the speaker know you are really listening by nodding, maintaining eye contact, or offering verbal cues to keep them engaged.
Keep an open mind.
You don’t have to agree with everything being stated, but be willing to let go of preconceived ideas. Often times, our opinions get in the way of our learning new ideas and concepts.
Don’t interrupt or finish a sentence for someone.
Allow the speaker to fully present her concepts. It can be tempting to talk over or interrupt someone, but that destroys conversation and doesn’t allow for the full breadth of ideas to form. To keep the conversation flowing, find the pause, and interject when appropriate.
Listen to the big picture.
Try to distill the central idea, not necessarily all the facts. Getting bogged down in details can impede on your ability to remember the important parts.
Look for the ‘what’s in it for me’ aspect of the speaker’s words.
By seeking out the benefits of a conversation, you will likely walk away from it having learned something valuable. When you dig for benefits, you’ll be less likely to drift and more likely to stay focused.
Listening seems like a fairly intuitive skill, but doing it effectively takes learning and practice. It helps build better relationships, avoid wasted time, decrease errors, solve problems, and ensure understanding. The better you listen, the more you gain both personally and professionally.