How To Practice Active Listening At Work
Think back to the last conversation you had with a co-worker, or a chat with your boss. How much of the time did you spend listening, and how much did you spend focused on what you would say next, or distracted by something else? We’re all the main characters in our own story, so it’s no surprise that most of us tend to speak a lot more than we listen. The irony, however, is that the best conversationalists listen more than they talk! This makes active listening a truly rare skill, and one that can help you to stand out in the workplace. In fact, it’s been proven to help build stronger relationships, foster trust, resolve conflict more effectively, and boost emotional intelligence.
What is active listening?
Active listening is an important communication skill that goes far beyond simply paying attention and nodding along. It means not only listening to the words the other person is saying, but also seeking to understand the meaning and intent behind them. This ensures you stay engaged within the conversation, and also allows the other person to feel valued and heard. It’s a skill that’s the foundation of successful communication within any setting, but can be especially vital at work.
6 Tips For Becoming A Better Listener At Work
In the digital age, effective listening can feel like a lost art, and it’s not necessarily a skill that comes naturally to many of us. The average person has a nine-second attention span, and in a workplace environment with so many other things demanding your time and focus, truly tuning into someone else can feel near-impossible. Nevertheless, like any skill, it can be honed with practise, and here are our top tips!
Be fully present. How many times have you been guilty of half-listening to a colleague, and half looking at your screen, anxious to reply to that email that’s just popped into your inbox? Being fully present in a conversation means focusing all your senses on the other person, and ignoring all other distractions for the time-being. So few people are actually able to do this that if you make it a habit, you’ll become known as a truly great conversationalist.
Ask open-ended questions. Asking questions that only allow your conversation partner to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ can make a conversation fizzle out faster than prosecco in a greenhouse. This makes it harder to listen to the other person, because there’s not much you can gain from a short, non-descriptive response. Instead, try asking open-ended questions such as, ‘Can you tell me more about that?’ or ‘How do you think we should proceed moving forward?'
Pay attention to non-verbal cues. As much as 65% of a person’s communication is unspoken. The remainder might come across as body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions. Paying attention to non-verbal cues can tell you a great deal about the other person and what they’re trying to communicate. For example, if they speak quickly, they may be nervous or anxious, and if they have their hands folded across their chest, they may be feeling closed off or guarded. This can help you figure out how best to respond next, or offer reassurance. Your non-verbal behaviours are just as important. For example, try to use open, non-threatening body language, and nod and smile as the other person speaks.
Clarify and paraphrase. Sometimes nodding along and smiling isn’t enough – you need to demonstrate to the other person that you’ve really been paying attention and understand, especially if you’re talking to a superior or discussing an important project. Clarifying and paraphrasing what a person has just said can be a great way to fill in any gaps in understanding and ensure you’ve accurately understood what the other person is trying to say, which is particularly important in professional settings. For example, let’s say your manager says to you, “I’ve just wrapped up the meeting with the executives, and it looks like the budget proposal will be denied unless we meet our targets”, you might say back, “So we can’t start hiring for the new position unless we exceed turnover for last year?” This will confirm both that you understand what’s been said, and the implications of it.
Maintain eye-contact. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, and in many ways this holds true. Making eye contact with someone when you’re speaking with them lets them know you’re present and engaged, and indicates you respect what they’re saying enough to refrain from distractions. However, you also don’t want to make someone else feel weird or uncomfortable. It’s therefore a good idea to keep eye contact for 50-70% of the time, for 4-5 seconds, before looking away briefly.
Be patient. We all know someone at work who takes forever to get to the point, meanwhile you’re keen to make a start on your to-do list. However, most of us also know how it feels to speak to someone who’s only half listening and gradually edging towards to door to make their exit – it can be hurtful and disrespectful. Being patient when another person is speaking means not trying to change the subject or cut them off mid-flow. It also means not expressing boredom or impatience during a conversation, or prematurely jumping in with your own ideas and opinions about what’s being said.
Ultimately, active listening is one of the most useful skills you’ll ever develop, both in personal and professional life. It’s especially important if you’re in a leadership position or aspire to be one day – it helps you to understand problems, and to collaborate to develop solutions. It also showcases your patience and your ability to devote your full attention to another person, both of which are valuable assets in the workplace. By becoming an active listener, you’ll have acquired a truly rare skill that could be a career game-changer!
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