If you Google the definition of listening, it includes the phrase, “respond to advice or a request.” Examples include a family member asking us to pick something up from the store on our way home from work. Or our boss telling us to respond to a customer’s email. Whether it’s in our personal or professional lives, we get asked for stuff on a regular basis. Which means we need to listen and listen well.
Poor listening impacts our ability to receive information. This can hurt our concentration levels, reduce our ability to properly prioritize, and position us to make poor decisions.
As easy as listening sounds, it’s really quite challenging. Here are seven listening steps to consider when you’re in meetings or having conversations with others:
1. Give people your full attention. This means putting down the technology devices. Most of us don’t need to be immediately accessible to the outside world and can afford to attend a meeting or go to lunch without being interrupted or constantly watching our phones.
2. Demonstrate the right nonverbal cues. While we’re listening, we can let the speaker know — using body language — we’re paying attention. Actions such as leaning in, nodding and maintaining eye contact allow others to see that we’re listening.
3. Focus on the content. Speaking of nonverbal cues, it’s one thing to practice good body language and it’s another to focus. We’ve probably all seen people maintaining eye contact who look like they’re creating mental shopping lists instead. Active listening means really paying attention.
4. Use minimal encouragers. The last thing we want to do when someone is speaking is interrupt them. Using encouragers like “um, yeah, etc.” can let someone know we’re listening. This can be especially helpful during phone calls.
5. Be empathetic. Depending on the conversation, the other person may be sharing something sensitive. Don’t judge the person. Try to remain open-minded and empathize with his or her point of view.
6. Make an effort to understand and retain information. If this is a lengthy conversation or one with a lot of detail, ask if it’s okay to take notes. Once the person is finished speaking, ask a couple of questions as appropriate. This could be extremely helpful in business situations.
7. Respond accordingly. Keep in mind sometimes people just want someone to listen to them. They might not be looking for advice. When in doubt, ask the question, “Can I tell you how I would handle the situation? You don’t have to follow it. But it might be helpful.”
We’re asked to listen to people all the time. At home, we listen to our family and friends. At work, we listen to customers, co-workers, and the boss. All of these individuals expect to get our undivided attention — and practicing good listening skills will help us deliver that promise.