Maya Angelou told us “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Well they may forget what you said, but if you actively listen to what people say and demonstrate you heard them—then you will make them feel that you are truly interested in them.
The most powerful thing you can share with someone is his or her own words.
Yet in this day of digital distractions listening has become a difficult skill to finesse. Interesting to note that the more connected we are, through mobile devices, the less we hear what people are actually saying.
Use these six strategies to improve your listening skills:
Be Attentive: Successful listeners hear it the first time. They are focused on the speaker and in the moment. Have you ever had someone tell you something and then ask you a question afterwards and not have any idea what to answer? You probably thought you were listening, but it is very easy for our minds to stray. Practice mindfulness by consciously eliminating distractions from your mind and body. Shut off your smartphone, close your door, and move away from the computer screen.
Ask Questions: One of the ways you can stay in the moment is to ask clarifying questions. Repeat what you think the speaker was saying to gain clarity and understanding: “What I think you’re saying is…” Often people’s comments are open to interpretation, so show your desire to understand while reinforcing you are listening.
Don’t Interrupt Unnecessarily. Use the acronym WAIT, Why Am I Talking? to keep your comments relative to the speaker’s thoughts. Often I observe people ask questions just to transition the conversation in another direction. Interject your questions, or thoughts, at appropriate intervals so not to throw the speaker off track.
Use Body Language: Face-to-face you can convey you are listening by nodding, smiling, and maintaining eye contact. Public speakers are taught to actively engage an audience by making eye contact with one person, at a time. You can pick up subtle non-verbal cues from watching the speaker’s body language. Are they leaning away from you, or leaning in? Do they have their arms crossed? Sounds basic, but 55% of communication is conveyed without even saying a word.
Empathize: Steven Covey coined the phrase “Seek first to understand, then be understood” which is my goal when listening. In order to effectively hear what the speaker is saying, try to look at it from their perspective. It is easy to jump to conclusions and judge when we don’t put ourselves in the other person’s shoes—and it is difficult to withhold judgment. Good listeners do this. Set aside filters and just listen.
Take notes: Muscle memory works. Note taking can be done in person or on the phone. Not only will note taking reinforce what’s being said, but also it provides you with a permanent record to refer back to. People are flattered when you take notes; ask if it is okay before doing so.
Effective listening has been shown to positively impact your career, relationships, and ability to lead. As I've mentioned, it doesn't just occur; it takes conscious effort, but the rewards are great.
Let me know your progress by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org and please share your comments on this topic.
Paul Anovick, Executive Coach, and Leadership Development Professional, develops and implements customized management and sales training solutions for C-suite executives, sales teams and entrepreneurs.