Great communicators are often lauded for their ability to work a room, give a killer speech or talk to seemingly anyone. While the aforementioned skills are undoubtedly useful and powerful, perhaps the most underrated part of communication is the art of listening. A focused listener can make a person feel like they are the only one in the world. Sometimes, by being a totally engaged audience for a colleague, you can convey a thousand words without uttering one. Here are six ways to become a better listener today.
1. Exhibit patience.
Becoming a better listener requires one thing above all else -- actually listening! When you are speaking, it means you aren’t listening. Before entering a conversation, remind yourself of the importance of letting the other person get their point across. Resist the urge to interrupt or even think about a rebuttal while listening. By practicing patience and giving 100-percent attention to the message you’re receiving, you’ll notice that you pick up on far more subtle communication cues from the other party. They will also notice your concentration and attentive style, and will not only be appreciative of it, but they also will be more open to your thoughts and feedback.
2. Seek to clarify.
Conversations, particularly the one-on-one variety can involve a lot of back-and-forth. With the natural ebb and flow of dialogue, it can be easy to misunderstand important information. Always repeat key points, as you understand them, to make sure you heard them correctly. If you are off or are having difficulty understanding something, make sure to ask for clarification and additional examples to gain a deeper understanding. By taking some time to make sure you’re both on the same page, you allow the other party to move forward with confidence and enable yourself to focus on listening in the moment versus pondering the meaning of previous conversation.
3. Make good use of time.
It's easy to fall into a trap where every meeting becomes rushed. You glance at your watch and notice you have to hurry through the rest of the points on the agenda. Properly allotting time for each conversation you have throughout the day will allow for less rushed meetings, which will greatly impact your ability to focus and be attentive.
Scheduling the correct amount of time for a meeting also means budgeting time to listen. By not hurrying through conversations, you allow them to develop at a deeper level, greatly impacting the quality of the dialogue. The side benefit of scheduling more time for your discussions is it will force you to cut unnecessary meetings from your calendar.
4. Listen with care.
Anyone in business knows that conversations can take on a plethora of different emotions. From moments of spontaneous laughter to the tense and poignant, you have to be ready for anything. Listening with care means you are always empathetic, taking into account the other person’s feelings.. When you are listening, it’s all about them. Cast aside your own position for a moment, and lean in to be a good receiver. Focus on being genuinely inquisitive -- and you’ll make a much more powerful connection.
5. Mind your body language.
How you sit or how you position your arms can send an unintentional message of interest or distain to the speaker. Make sure that your non-verbal signals are those of an excellent listener. Keep good eye contact while taking a break at appropriate times so as not to stare. And make sure your facial expressions mirror those of the other person. Take note of their tone, if they’re smiling, serious, etc.
6. Create a comfortable environment for conversation.
A good listener allows the other communicator to speak without being distracted. For instance, make sure you are meeting in a place that’s free from disruption. If you’re planning on having an important conversation over a meal, you may not want to pick the most crowded, popular restaurant in town. Alternatively, you could ask for a table in a less congested area. If you take notes during your conversation, just write down key points instead of trying to record everything word for word. This will allow you to be more attentive and to maintain some eye contact.
Listening is a skill, and therefore, it can be improved with practice. It’s an important part of being a great communicator, which is an ability all leaders must possess.