It’s widely understood that communication is a soft skill that most employers place fairly high up on their wish list when recruiting and building a successful team. It’s consistent across all levels of roles too - you’ll see the importance of good communication skills listed on job adverts and job descriptions for entry-level roles right up to the most senior positions.
When we think of communication, we often think in terms of verbal and written. But, the ability to listen - and really listen - is just as important, if not more so, as being able to convey your own thoughts and ideas in the workplace.
There are many benefits to improving your listening skills, which extend way beyond the workplace, but from a career perspective:
- Understanding the wider world - current affairs, the economy, your competitors
- Understanding business objectives
- Understanding what is expected of you
- Understanding client’s requirements
- Relationship building
- Conflict resolution
Listening, we’re already doing it all day and there’s not much to it, right? Wrong.
What is known as ‘active listening’ is a skill like any other, the more you practice it, the better you’ll become. If improving your listening skills is key to being a better employee, colleague and manager, then there’s no better time to start than right now.
Active listening consists of two core elements; paying attention, followed by reflection, and response. Essentially, it’s the ability to give your fullest attention to what is being communicated to you. Often, we find ourselves starting to formulate our response before the person has even finished speaking.
So, how can we break this habit and improve our listening skills?
Eliminate anything that takes your attention away from the speaker. The buzz of your mobile phone, the ping of an email arriving, another conversation happening nearby or the radio are all commonplace distractions. Try to be present and focus on the speaker without planning your response or letting your mind wander.
It can take a lot of practice to not jump in when you think you already know about an issue or know the answer to a question. In today’s busy and fast-paced world, we’re often trying to get several things done at once. But think how you feel if you are interrupted. If you want to be respected, then show respect.
NON VERBAL CUES
Active listening involves not just paying attention to every word, but also body language, facial expressions and gestures. Sometimes these can be just as telling as the words that are being used.
And likewise, as the listener, think about how you come across too. Are you facing the person you’re speaking to? Are your arms open? Are you making eye contact? Is it appropriate to nod or smile? All of these things are vitally important to show that you are engaged.
As with distractions, the environment can play a big part too. In scenarios such as interviews, appraisals or meetings, think about the layout of the room and furniture which can be a barrier to communication.
Empathy is showing the other person that you understand and relate. It might be through sharing your own related experience or by using phrases such as ‘Thank you for sharing….’ or ‘I hear what you’re saying about…’
Once the speaker has finished, consider whether it’s relevant to ask further questions. This helps further demonstrate you’ve listened and have a genuine interest in what they’re saying. Or, it might be appropriate to repeat back key elements of what has been said to clarify your understanding.