The Business of Listening

Of all the skills important to a successful manager, effective listening is arguably the most valuable. It can be the difference between mediocre and exceptional relationships between friends, customers, employees, and co-workers.

Listening is one of the most difficult skills to master. Most people aren’t born effective listeners. One reason is because real listening involves letting go of personal agendas to better understand another’s message. Many would much rather be heard than hear, usually resulting in misunderstanding.

While it seems simple, the process can be pretty complex. There are several steps involved: hearing what is said; listening for what isn’t said; interpreting what it really means; formulating a response, and replying. There’s a lot of opportunity for communication to go wrong!  Fortunately, listening is a skill and can be taught. It takes time and discipline, but here are some simple tips to get you started:

  1. Stop talking! This is the first step in listening effectively. It sounds like simple common sense, but if interrupting is part of your communication habit, it’ll take some time to replace the behavior. It’s very difficult for two people to both talk and listen at the same time.
  2. Create a setting conducive to listening. Remove distractions such as environmental noises, phones, music, other people, and distractions.
  3. Listen non-judgmentally. Free your mind to focus on what the other person is saying.
  4. Respond periodically to let the other person know you are hearing them.
  5. Paraphrase or summarize what the other has said for clarification. Give the other person the chance to correct inaccurate information.
  6. Finally, if you said you would take action, do it! This one step can demonstrate more about effective listening than any other. Because the process is internal, we have to evaluate whether someone is listening based on his behaviors. Taking action is a simple, yet visible way to accomplish this.

With practice, anyone can improve listening skills. It takes time and practice, but it can be rewarding. Humans can think much faster than they can speak, and with practice, while you listen, you will also be able to think about what you are hearing, really understand it, and respond in a way that values the speaker and enhances communication.

Actively listen. It can help in conversations. Watch for tips.

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