Just about anything can be resolved with effective communication. Resolution is possible when the parties are willing and able to:
- Say what needs to be said
- Hear what needs to be heard
- Give up being right and making others wrong
- Be flexible and accept compromise
Listening is arguably the most vital life skill any individual can learn and master. After all, “excellent listening skills” is high on employers’ lists of resume keyword searches.
An effective listener has the ability to:
- Diffuse upset
- Effectively lead by example
- Inspire others
- Generate teamwork
I’m going to outline for you several techniques that will help you hone your listening skills.
- Effective listening requires that you pay close attention. This means no distractions or side tracking. Give someone your undivided attention. This may mean you have to ask the person if the conversation can wait. You could say, “I really want to give you my full attention but need to complete this task. Can we speak in 15 minutes?” Giving the person a concrete time frame in which you’ll address the conversation tells them that you think what they have to say is important and they will likely be all the more engaged when it comes time to speak with you.
- Don’t half-listen. We’ve all done it. We nod, “hm” and “mm-hm,” and “right” our way through conversations. People know when you’re not listening to them. Consider that people feel disregarded and irrelevant when you pretend to listen.
- It is perfectly acceptable to tell someone you are simply not available. Does your office have that person who loves to complain? How about the one who gossips? The one who has the best story from a weekend? Don’t feel obligated to spend your time listening to people who waste your time. However, if you do want to listen to these people, then please refer to technique #1.
- Once you’ve heard someone, do something! Take action when and where appropriate. If you’ve fielded a complaint, make sure it gets communicated up—and certainly follow up to make sure it’s handled and complete. If you’ve fielded praise or appreciation, make sure your superior (or the superior of whom the praise was directed) knows about it.
- When someone is praising or acknowledging you, do not blow it off. Take responsibility for a job well done. Own your achievements and do not diminish them. Accept credit. This one gets tricky for many people.
- On the other hand, if you are being reprimanded, hear out the argument. Avoid getting defensive from the gate. There may be a valid point from which you can learn. You might discover a misconception or miscommunication that led to your reprimand. In any case, hold your tongue and listen to what is being said. You may have to listen for what is not being said. For example, a boss says, “I can’t count on you!” Underlying this communication is, “I feel frustrated and left out on a limb when you don’t tell me where you are with this project.” Actively listening to what is being said to you will help you decipher the message to which you ultimately should respond. And of course, accept responsibility if you were at fault.
- Be willing to be amazed. When you truly set aside yourself and your agenda, and open yourself to listen to others, you will be amazed by what people will share with you.
Effective listening, active listening, is not always easy. It takes effort and concentration to give someone your attention. It’s a practice and it takes practice. But it truly pays off. Consider these points:
- Listen well to your superiors and you will become known as someone who cares about the direction of the company.
- Listen well to your peers and you will become known as someone who is a team player.
- Listen well to your subordinates and you will become known as a boss who is interested in how people are.