It sometimes seems as though the art of listening, or at least really listening, is a dying art. How often do you feel that the person listening to you is actually just waiting for you to finish so they can jump straight in with their opinions or story to share? Are we really all too busy to stop and listen properly? And how many misunderstandings, frustrations and antagonisms would we avoid if we could only listen and accurately interpret what we are being told.
Active listening is also about showing you are listening and making the speaker feel that you value their thoughts and opinions – and the relationship itself. The value of listening to someone simply to understand rather than to persuade, defend or convince is greatly underestimated.
Proper listening can offer you enormous benefits and here are just some of them:
Less wasted time and improved productivity: if you listen effectively you are more likely to have an accurate memory of what has been said and therefore you will not need to go back for clarification, misinterpret instructions or advice or risk not responding as and when you were asked.
Better rapport and relationship building: by listening properly and demonstrating that you are really interested in what is being said you show that you value, trust and respect the speaker. Conversely, giving the impression that you are not really listening suggests that you don’t have time for the speaker and don’t value their opinions and ideas.
More creative problem solving: you may think that you know best and have all the answers but sometimes taking a step back and encouraging others to share their ideas and then really listening to them can give you a broader perspective and a deeper understanding of the alternatives. It may take a bit more time but your solutions should be more effective as a result.
Greater personal development: one of the hardest things to hear can be feedback about our behaviour or performance and it can be all too easy to make excuses rather than to listen properly to what has been said. If we show that we have listened to and taken on board the feedback, we will gain more respect and trust – and develop ourselves as well.
Effective motivation: active listening is a crucial management tool yet so often we hear the complaint, ‘he never listens to me.’ Listening to your employees demonstrates recognition and value which turn make it more likely that they will feel engaged and loyal and they will be more productive as a result.
Try spending more time listening, and listening actively, and less time speaking and you should see an immediate change. It may be a challenge but when you are listening, focus not only on the words but what is communicated implicitly and see if you can listen intently without doing anything else at the same time: not checking your emails, thinking about your lunch or listening to another conversation at the same time. You may think these distractions go unnoticed but all too often they don’t.