Simple Ways to Become a Great Listener
Listening can be described as “the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process.” It is that, but it’s also more than that.
In this era of multitasking, you probably excel at listening even as you do other things. But it’s not enough to be skilled at listening if, in the process, you convey the impression that you’re not listening.
I learned firsthand while presenting a seminar how easy it is to give that impression. When Tony, one of the participants, made a key point, I started riffling through my material to find a quote that reinforced his point. In an evaluation form completed after the seminar, one of the other participants commented that when I was flipping through my material while Tony was talking, it looked like I wasn’t listening.
Oh, but I was listening. I heard precisely what Tony said, and could have repeated it even hours later. But it didn’t matter that I knew that I was listening if someone else had the impression that I wasn’t. And if one person had that impression, it’s likely that several others did as well. That experience taught me to be more conscientious about how I look and what I’m doing when I’m listening.
This isn’t a trivial matter. If you’ve ever been the one speaking to someone who appears not to be listening, you know how annoying it is. Even as you’re speaking, you’re thinking to yourself, why should I even bother when he isn’t paying attention? If those you’re speaking to—say, your customers—perceive that you’re not listening, they might tune out, withholding the very information you need to help them. The appearance of not listening can undermine your ability to successfully assess needs, solve problems, and build strong relationships.
The question to ask yourself, therefore, is whether your customers, coworkers, or others might ever feel discouraged, annoyed, or resentful about the way you listen when they’re speaking to you. Unless your answer is wholeheartedly no—and you’re comfortable that they would say the same—try to listen more effectively.
Make eye contact. Ask clarifying questions. Occasionally play back what you heard. Most importantly, put down your electronic devices, put away any distractions, and pay attention.
Very simply, stop what you’re doing and listen!