One of the most important skills you can have to advance your career is not speaking—it is listening. Actually, studies show that we spend 45 percent of our day listening. But we aren’t very good at it.
Here are a few tips for becoming an active listener and facilitating better communication.
- Stop talking. Give the other person your total attention. Don’t do anything else like continuing to work on your computer. Some people do this to shorten the conversation and make the person go away, but all it really does is give you a reputation for being rude.
- Check for understanding through the use of questions and paraphrasing. Be sure you are not adding any meaning that is not there. Use statements like “Do you mean that…” “Let me see, if I understand you correctly…” “In other words, you feel that…” This will help you avoid assumptive listening—assuming you know what the other person means by their statement. Many times you will be wrong.
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- Read between the lines by noticing the person’s body language—their facial expressions, hands, feet and general body position. What is it saying to you?
- Use your body language to show you are listening through head nodding, leaning forwards. And add an occasional meaningless word, grunt or phrase like “uh huh” or “hmm.” But don’t overdo it and don’t use the same word over and over again.Too many “uh huhs” in a row will communicate impatience.
- Concentrate and focus intently on the person and what they are saying. Quiet that separate conversation you are having in your head while the other person is speaking. Our mind goes four times as fast as a person can speak. It’s what you do with that extra time that determines whether you are a good listener or not. Spend that time reading between the lines.
- At the end of the conversation, summarize the points made, anything you have agreed to and actions that must follow.
If you and your colleagues would like to improve your listening skills, ask about my program on listening skills, “The Power of Listening.”
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