Listening skills are probably the most crucial element of business communication yet they are so often neglected. The ability to focus fully on another person and pay complete attention to what is being said appears to be a dying art. By not listening properly to what is being said – how can you attempt to know what the other person wants? Read on to discover some key tips on how to maximise your active listing skills.
Better listening skills: Within reach of everyone
We need people to know that we have been listening and that they have been heard
It is often said that at best we retain only between 20 and 50% of what we hear. In a business context, where we are expected to absorb and act on large quantities of information, it is essential that we listen as fully as possible – and we need people to know that we have been listening and that they have been heard.
So what does it mean to listen actively? The simple tips below should help you improve your listening skills and become a more effective listener and communicator.
1. Avoid Distractions and Focus
Don’t multitask – be in the moment of the conversation
Avoid distractions and focus on the speaker – it is all too easy to find ourselves not only thinking about something else but actively fiddling with our smartphones or listening to another conversation while someone is talking to us. As well as risking not capturing all the information, consider the image this portrays to the speaker
2. Listen to the Non-verbal Signals
‘Listen’ to the non-verbal as well as verbal signals – in addition to the words themselves, a key part of any message is the non-verbal signals you receive from the speaker. Pay attention to posture, eye contact and gestures to get a deeper understanding of the message they are trying to convey
Keep your posture alert and use appropriate gestures
3. Use Non-verbal Communication
Use non-verbal communication to show you are listening – as well as interpreting others’ non-verbal cues, try to ensure that you make good eye contact, keep your posture alert and use appropriate gestures such as nodding to demonstrate that you are listening
4. Don’t Interrupt!
Avoid the temptation to interject or interrupt – let the other person finish before jumping in with questions or giving your own version of events. Silence is a powerful tool so use it well.
The renowned American psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck said that true listening requires a setting aside of oneself
5. Ask Good Questions
Ask good questions – when the speaker has finished ask open questions to elicit any further information or clarification you need
6. What’s it All About?
Paraphrase and summarise to make sure that you have heard and understood correctly – it is very easy to make assumptions, miss key elements or misinterpret messages so check back in with the speaker to check that you have understood correctly. Without patronising, it can be helpful to recap on what you have understood and summarise the main messages.
We should all place greater importance on active listening as it shows respect, helps build relationships and avoids wasting time due to misunderstandings or misplaced assumptions.