Listening with intention is not always an easy task. In our daily lives, we are full steam ahead with demanding schedules, tasks, to-do lists and family obligations. We often do not take the time to process a person's entire message before responding.
Here are eight tips for honing your listening skills:
- Slow down. Networking on auto-pilot can significantly inhibit your ability to connect with others. Instead of going through the motions, learn to be attentive by clearing your mind of mental clutter. Once you make this conscious adjustment, you will be able to concentrate on the individual in front of you.
- Use restraint. Allow the person to finish their thought. Interjecting or completing their sentence(s) implies you think they are going too slow. It is also a sign you are ready to move on.
- Remove distractions. Position yourself away from the door, put your smartphone away and avoid scanning the room for the next person you want to meet. These simple steps will heighten your awareness and allow you to have a meaningful discussion with complete focus. Instead of trying to predict their next statement, fix your attention on the speaker's message.
- Follow directions. Asking questions can mean fewer errors and less wasted energy. Carefully note the speaker's instructions. It can be the difference between solidifying a business partnership and a missed opportunity. Paraphrasing information helps to clarify details.
- Face the person with your shoulders. When talking one-on-one, give the other individual your attention by turning towards them, making direct eye contact and positioning your torso in their direction. When your body is facing away, you are saying you are not fully invested in the dialogue.
- View the conversation as a dance, not a race. Slow down, ask open-ended questions and wait for a pause before joining in. Give yourself time to become familiar with the natural flow of the conversation. Follow the speaker's lead and frame your response accordingly. At the end of the discussion, you will both have a better understanding of one another's viewpoints.
- Stay focused. Often a topic gets redirected after a client or colleague says something that triggers a memory or passion of yours that does not directly relate to what they shared. For example, a person might say, "I just got back from a business trip to New York" and you reply, "I go there every other month. I love the theatre. Which airline do you fly?" The theme has now shifted from business to theatre and travel. Respond to the original thought by asking, "What type of business do you do in New York?" rather than taking the conversation hostage.
- Give feedback. In addition to maintaining direct eye contact, nodding your head or mirroring the speaker's emotions with your facial expressions encourages them to continue. An occasional "hmm..." or "I agree" further indicates you are grasping the information.
Attentively listening calls for greater effort, but the positive outcome of a successful exchange is worth your time.