5 Ways to Listen Better

Whether at work or at home, effective listening isn’t always easy. Today’s motley of phone calls, text messages, emails, newsletters and social media updates make it easier than ever to stay connected, but the sheer volume of information can make it more difficult than ever to fight distraction and stay focused on the messages that matter most. In an age of hyper communication, here are the top 5 tips for staying and increasing workplace happiness by listening effectively:

  1. Full Attention: Attention is the difference between casual and effective listening. Eye contact is an obvious start; so is displaying open, relaxed body language. But take it a step further. Remove distractions. Minimize windows on your desktop, silence your phone, and most importantly, clear the clutter from your mind and focus on the person you are speaking with. Distractions are especially tempting during telephone meetings. But even though the person on the other end of the line won’t see you checking your e-mails or surfing e-bay, your understanding of the conversation and the quality of your interaction will be diminished by your urge to multitask.

Browser Beware: most webinar software alerts the host anytime you wander away from a presentation by either minimizing the webinar window, or opening a new window on your desktop. So avoid any embarrassing gaffes and just focus.

  1. Genuine Interest: Sure, you can fake it. Many do all the time. But if you really want to improve the quality of your conversations and listen more effectively, you’re going to have to get interested. Genuinely. No amount of head-nodding and “mmm-hmmms” can replace genuine interest. Don’t just receive information, hunt for it. Dive deeper by asking questions.
  1. Non Verbal: Be mindful of your own body language, but focus on the other person’s. You can learn a lot from how a person is sitting, standing, or occupying their hands. In case you missed Body Language 101, here are a few translations:
  • Hands on knees: indicates readiness.
  • Hands on hips: indicates impatience or possibly the person is angry.
  • Hands locked behind the back: indicates self-control.
  • Hands locked behind the head: states confidence.
  • Sitting with a leg over the arm of the chair: suggests indifference.
  • Crossed arms: indicates self importance, disagreement, or resistance.
  • Fidgeting: indicates boredom or nervousness.
  • When talking on the phone, pay special attention to the other person’s tone of voice. Also examine the moments of silence. Is the other person daydreaming, choosing words, or biting their tongue? If you’re unclear, ask.
  1. Paraphrase: One of the best ways to ensure you’re clear about the message you’re receiving is to say it back. Repeating and paraphrasing not only clarify points of potential misunderstanding, but they show the other person you are actively engaged in understanding what they are saying. It is also important to paraphrase what’s NOT said, and acknowledge ideas or emotions which may be bubbling beneath the surface, “I sense you are feeling angry…”
  1. Collaborate: Excluding debates, conversations are not about finding a winner; they’re about finding common ground. Let others finish their sentences and complete their thoughts before you respond. Don’t think about what you are going to say while the other person is talking. It’s not just good manners, it’s essential to understanding.