“People are fired, customers are lost, and working relationships are strained because of ineffective listening. Likewise, friendships suffer, marriages fail, and families grow apart when individuals fail to listen with genuine concern.”
O’Connor and Rios – Communication Skills
Improving your listening skills is very important, not only for your business life, but for your personal life as well. By learning about the process and putting forth a conscious effort, you can become an effective listener.
The following ten guidelines, adapted from Thill and Bovee’s book, will help you become a better listener:
- Minimize both internal and external distractions. You can’t always get rid of a headache, but you can close the windows if the driver of a truck is outside revving his engine.
- Adjust your listening to the situation. If you’re listening to a lecture for an exam in Biology class, you’ll want to pay closer attention than if you’re watching the local news. In the former situation, you’ll probably take notes.
- Show you’re listening by your nonverbal communication. You might nod, shake your head, or raise your eyebrows. Adjust your posture accordingly. Make eye contact.
- If you’re listening to a speech or attending a business meeting, determine the most important points and develop a method to remember them. You might repeat them mentally or even jot them down briefly.
- When you’re listening to a friend with a problem, demonstrate empathy. Show her you understand what she is going through.
- Realize that people don’t necessarily want you to solve their problem. They may simply want to share how they are feeling. Save advice for another time, unless you’re asked for it.
- Don’t interrupt. Let the person finish what he is saying before you explain your point of view or ask questions.
- Don’t prejudge a person’s message by the way he looks. You can learn something from almost anyone.
- Stay focused on the subject. It’s easy to let your mind wander, especially if the subject isn’t important to you. Train yourself to concentrate.
- Remain clearheaded, even if the topic is emotional. Perhaps someone is discussing the victories of the recent election, and you were passionate about a losing candidate. When emotions become involved, you may end up in the middle of a shouting match, which will resolve nothing. Present your points calmly. You’ll gain credibility by doing so.
To truly listen to someone — not just to hear the words the other is saying but to pay attention to the message contained in the words — is the greatest compliment we can give another person. It means that the other is important enough to us so that we are willing to give him or her our most valuable commodity: our time.