“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen”
– Ernest Hemmingway
Entrepreneurs, business leaders and managers often tend to be good at speaking, telling their stories and being able to inspire others. But yet, being a good listener is equally, if not more, important than the speaking skills. Listening is an essential part of communication, and it goes beyond hearing words; it is an active process that requires conscientiousness and practice.
Being a good listener is essential to anyone who has colleagues, deals with customers or runs a business, which means that it is of significant importance for almost everyone in todays business world. Many individuals tend, however, to become numb to the noise that follows us in everyday life.
Working as a consultant as I do, listening is even more important. The success of a consultant depends on his/her ability to listen, to really take in what the client is saying and on understanding what will make them succeed with their projects. Quite often, this is not the same as the problem the client mentions at first. Being a consultant is very much about knowing how to take the dialogue to help the client develop their own understanding of the core challenges that need to be solved and their solutions.
Listening is not as natural and automatic as one may think; in fact, most people make mistakes when listening to others. According to present research a majority tend to be more concerned with being heard and voicing their own perspective rather than listen to the speaker. Being a good listener provides a more profound level of understanding about individual specific situations and it helps to understand what strategies are best to use and what should be avoided. Furthermore, if taking time to listen to what employees and customers have to say, you continuously builds a loyalty following your brand. It is a part of what it takes to build meaningful connections with others. Below are some techniques to do so more effectively.
To be a good listener one has to be attentive and present. It is essential to clear your mind of other thoughts and solely focus on what is being communicated by the individual speaking. This is not as easy as it may sound. Although we live in a time with an urge to get as much out of every minute that we can one must remove all physical distractions in order to be a good listener. When a colleague is approaching you to communicate something important, resist the desire to multitask. Do not read or reply e-mails, stop web browsing and do not fiddle with your phone. Give the speaker your full attention and maintain eye contact.
Notwithstanding that you are putting all physical distractions aside, it can still be hard to sort out the mental distractions. One has to clear out the mental clutter and fully be in the current moment. There are several techniques of how to divide the present from past and future thoughts; everything from meditation and mindfulness to strident mind-maps and brain dumping exercises – all individual specific. When you have found the optimal way for you to clear your mind of distracting thoughts it will be easier for you to digest what is being communicated.
Resist the urge to interrupt
As outlined, individuals tend to be more concerned with being heard and voicing their own perspective rather than listen to the speaker. Most people do not listen to comprehend; they rather listen to reply. Resist the impulse to interrupt; it will make the speaker feel more comfortable and disposed to present his or her thoughts and views. Focus on what the speaker is actually saying and not on what you are going to say next. You do not necessarily have to agree with the speaker, but try to understand his or her perspective.
Do not reply until you have fully absorbed what the other person is saying, and respond thoughtfully. Furthermore, if you are surrounded by people that have the capability to challenge you intellectually and look upon actions from a different perspective than yourself you will probably learn a lot by simply listening and absorbing. Being able to reflect and understand matters from a different angle often gives rise to new interesting knowledge that in turn gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself in terms of opinions, views and ideas.
Understand communication between the lines, but do not assume
Powerful listening requires you not to assume anything while at the same time being able to understand that words articulated in a conversation do not always represent the individual’s intention. It is hard to have a meaningful conversation while assuming, as you by doing so, automatically lay over what the person says with your presumptions. Keep an open mind without suppositions, but at the same time search for what is not found in the words that are being communicated. Listen to the tone of the voice, choice of words and look at the body and facial expression. It is crucial to observe body language. Does it communicate the same thing as the actual words spoken? Do the person maintain eye to eye contact? Try to combine all your impressions of the individual speaking when listening, it will give you a lot more out of the conversation.
Clarify and ask questions
When you are fully absorbed with what the person has said, summarise and clarify to ensure you have got the message right. If you do not understand the point the other person is trying to make, simply ask for amplification and specific examples. Conclusively, ask questions and follow up questions. Open-ended questions provide the best opportunity for people to elaborate on a given topic and will keep the conversation flowing smoothly to reach conclusions.