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Stop Talking. Start Listening: How to be a better listener

Most people think improving communication has to do with being able to speak and present confidently. Sure, that is important, but the best communicators are also good listeners. Listening builds trust and improves business relationships.

In a Gallup Podcast, Susan Brady, CEO of the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership says if she was going to list “one leadership skill out of all the skills needed, listening is the most important.” We agree.

That’s why it’s important to stop talking and start listening, which can be especially difficult for extroverts. We live in a time when there is so much emphasis on speaking up and drawing attention to oneself. Check out any social media platform and all the so-called “influencers.” We reward people for being out front and vocal. Here at CK and CO, we teach people to be better presenters, but also help them be better listeners. Studies year after year show we can all use improvement – it does not just happen. You must work at it. So, here are a few tips to help.

Avoid Distractions

It’s easy to let your mind wander or to try and do two things at once. Good luck with that! Chances are you miss important information. In fact, a study by Meetings in America found nine out of ten people have daydreamed during a meeting and four out of ten say they’ve even dozed off. To avoid this embarrassing behavior, try to focus on the person speaking. Really look at them and tune everything else out. Be physically still because movement causes us to lose focus.

Don’t Interrupt

Avoid the urge to jump in. This one is hard for type A people because your brain starts racing ahead, but it is doable. The right way to break into a conversation is to wait for someone to stop speaking, breathe, and then begin talking. After a while it becomes second nature.

Be Aware of Perceptions

The words from a popular Simon and Garfunkel song go like this, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” Of course, this applies to everyone, not just men. If you are listening and begin to add your own color commentary and put your own filter on the information you might only be hearing what you want to hear. Try to be open-minded. It makes a difference.

Ask Questions

A good listener doesn’t need to be silent. As you listen critically, you begin to develop questions. Maybe you don’t understand something, so you ask a clarifying question. Perhaps you just want to confirm the information. So, you might rephrase the content and ask if your understanding is correct. Good listeners have a conversation and give relevant feedback to the speaker.

Pay Attention to Nonverbal Cues

The numbers vary, but some studies say as much as 80% of what we communicate is through nonverbals. If you aren’t paying attention, you are missing a facial expression or gesture that might indicate the person is uncomfortable, or on the other hand, really believes what they are saying. What you observe with your eyes is as important as what you hear when you are listening.

Bottom line, if you are a good listener, you can avoid miscommunication and wasted time. It also helps you figure out what to address when you do speak up.

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