What did you say?
Listening can seem surprisingly complicated. It’s possible to hear what someone says but not catch every nuance of what they are telling you or their unspoken statements. Improving your listening skills can help you become a better professional. It can make it easier to understand what a colleague or supervisor expects of you or determine what service will add value for a client.
In honor of National Listening Day, here are ways to enhance your ability to be an active listener.
Listen more than you talk
This advice comes from Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, in a LinkedIn article. “Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak,” he writes.
While it’s acceptable to share your ideas, don’t miss the chance to learn from and about other people. Generally, your goal should be to listen to hear the other person and get something out of their words, not simply so can you respond when they’re done.
The habits of an active listener include facing the speaker, maintaining eye contact and good posture and — particularly important — letting the other person complete what they have to say before speaking yourself. Interrupting someone not only prevents them from getting their points or information across, but it also can indicate impatience or a lack of interest in what they are saying.
Even if you have a quick answer or response to what you’re being told, try to be patient and, if necessary, find a diplomatic way to ask a question if they’ve gone on a while. Checking your phone can also make it tough to absorb what someone is saying, and it gives the impression that listening to them is not your top priority.
If you’re in a job interview or a meeting with your boss or a client and aren’t sure of something the other person has said, repeat what you think you’ve heard and ask if you’ve got it right. That’s also a good approach if someone has brought you a complaint and you want to show you’ve understood their issues.
You might also ask questions to dig deeper into the points someone has made. Ask for more details about a boss’s expectations, or encourage a client to share information about business challenges or opportunities that they mention in passing. You may uncover valuable insights that can help you advance your career or better serve a client.
Be aware of nuances
UCLA researcher Albert Mehrabian found that spoken words only account for 7% of what we communicate. Body language communicates 55% and the tone of voice the other 38%.
With that in mind, watch for clues such as facial expression and speaking tone to get a better sense of the feelings behind the words. If someone insists they aren’t upset about something but they’re speaking loudly or emotionally, they probably really are upset. If they smile with their mouth but not with their eyes, they may not be as complacent or agreeable as they say.
As management expert Peter Drucker noted, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
What’s going on in the other person’s head as they speak to you? How does it feel to be them? This may sound difficult to determine. But even trying to empathize can give you a greater understanding of the full story behind their words and help you notice those signals in body language and tone of voice.
“I am endlessly surprised by what new and useful information I can gather just by keeping my ears open,” Branson writes.
Use these tips to boost your listening skills. You may be amazed at what you learn!