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How often do you really listen to your colleagues, employees, customers, suppliers and others you come into contact with at work or in your business?
Think about the conversations you have had recently. Did you make assumptions about what the other person was saying? Did you allow too little time for them to say what they wanted to say? Did you lead the conversation to the outcome you wanted? Was your attention wandering? Were you interrupting them when they were speaking? Were you just listening for the space so you could say what you wanted to say? Were you only listening to what you wanted to hear? What information did you miss when you were not listening? It is also interesting to think about how you feel when you are talking to someone and they are not listening to you.
Poor listening skills can lead to unhappy staff, losing customers and contracts, conflict, misunderstandings, decreased productivity, increased costs and ultimately lower profits. Effective listening in all conversations is therefore critical to business success and it can positively impact your personal performance at work, as well as your relationships with others. When you are really listening the person you are listening to feels valued and understood and is more likely to be open and honest with you. As a consequence you will gain greater insight and make better decisions and choices in your role.
Here are some tips and ideas as to how you can improve your listening skills:
Allow enough time. Many conversations at work are rushed and don't reach a satisfactory conclusion because of lack of time resulting in further meetings being required. This often takes more time in total than if enough time had been allowed in the first place. Consider how long you need for a meeting and allow enough time in your schedule.
Be fully present and pay attention. How many times have you been supposedly listening to someone else but your mind was full of thoughts about all sorts of other things? Before having a conversation set aside your thoughts and during the conversation focus on being present in the moment and give 100% of your attention to the other person. It is amazing what a difference this will make.
Focus on really listening. Think of a recent conversation. Were you really listening or just paying lip service to what the other person was saying? Really listening involves not only hearing, but also understanding what is being said, including what the other person is thinking, feeling and how they see the world. This includes not only listening to the words but also picking up on the non verbal signals you are receiving.
Minimise distractions. Distractions can play havoc with listening, whether these be background conversations, the phone ringing or other interruptions. To really hear what the other person is saying it is critical to find the right place to have your conversations and minimise distractions.
Do not interrupt. How many conversations have you been involved in where the other person or both people are just listening for the time when they can interrupt and speak? Often both people end up speaking at once. In these situations very little listening is happening. Listen to the other person and allow them to finish what they want to say before speaking.
Show that you are listening. When you are speaking to someone and they are not listening you pick up on this very quickly due to how the person is behaving. Show you are listening by using your body language to convey this (e.g. nods, smiles, an open posture etc.) and also by using short verbal comments (e.g. yes, okay etc.).
Allow the silence. During a conversation the speaker may go silent because their mind is processing or they are thinking about what they are going to say next. You can read silence as a signal for you to speak. However often by allowing the silence and waiting you will find that something critical to the conversation is then said.
Be non judgemental. It is easy in a conversation to make assumptions about what will be said, take an emotional standpoint on the subject being discussed and try to push your own point of view or get the outcome you want. To really listen you need to be non judgemental and allow the person to say what they want to say.
Ask open questions. Have you experienced a conversation where the other person is reluctant to speak and you ask a few questions and they answer yes or no and the conversation ends? You think everything has gone well but afterwards something else happens and you realised there is a big issue or you have totally misread the situation. Try asking open questions (e.g. How...?, What...? etc.) and you will find that you have a much more productive conversation.
Reflect back what you have heard. Have you been involved in a conversation where it seemed a good meeting but you realise at a later time that both parties have a completely different understanding of what was discussed? To help with this reflect back to the speaker what you think they are saying by paraphrasing, clarify points with them, ask questions for better understanding and summarise what you are hearing.
Notice if you are not listening and bring your attention back. It is easy to start day dreaming when you are listening to someone and miss key information. Notice if you are not listening and bring your attention back quickly. You can also ask for clarification at this point so that you are up to date with what is being said.
Respond appropriately. How you respond to another person in a conversation is critical to the outcome e.g. If you get defensive with a customer about a complaint they may become more upset and if you start criticising a staff member they may feel demotivated. Respond appropriately in all conversations and if you don't have an appropriate answer say you will look into it and revert later. It may help to not jump straight in and say something but have some thinking time before responding.
Agree the key points of the conversation at the end. How many meetings and conversations have you been involved in where it is not clear what was agreed? You usually find in these situations that a lot of time is then wasted afterwards in sorting it out. Always agree the key points and what has been agreed in the conversation at the end and check that everyone is in agreement.
Ask for feedback. When was the last time you asked for feedback at the end of a conversation? By asking for feedback from the other person on how the conversation went you will hopefully find areas for improvement so that future meetings go better.
Listening does not come easy but if you work on your listening you will find there are many benefits in your performance and effectiveness at work or in your business.
If you are looking to improve your communication skills at work or in your business please call Liz Makin on 01780 765270 or email Liz@makinithappen.co.uk for a free consultation session. You can also read more about our services at http://makinithappen.co.uk.
The articles below may also help you:
Dealing with difficult people
How to improve your business relationships?
You can also read other business and stress management tips articles that may help you be more effective at work or in your business.
Author: Liz Makin
Published: November 2013
Makin It Happen has a range of personal development online courses to purchase, created by Liz Makin, including communication, resilience, time management, stress management and coaching. Liz Makin also provides personalised business coaching, business mentoring and stress management services to business owners, directors, managers and professionals.
Please call Liz on 01780 765270 or email Liz@makinithappen.co.uk
to arrange a FREE consultation session
to discuss our business coaching, business mentoring and stress management services for business owners, directors, managers and professionals.