The Simple Art of Effective Listening

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” –Doug Larson

Among the many keys to establishing and maintaining a strong relationship, there isn’t anything I value more than practising effective listening skills. In my own experience, I have always felt more confident and empowered leaving a conversation if the other person was visibly engaged and attentive. In retrospect, the blaringly obvious sting of speaking to someone who refuses to be present in the moment by interrupting, looking at their cellphone, etc. can make for a pretty defeating feeling. No matter how impactful a story we tell or a point we make, we like to be both heard and listened to. So why is it we too often neglect stretching this courtesy to others when the stage is theirs? It may seem like common sense, but the importance of actively listening to others tends to fall by the wayside when we get caught up in our busy schedules – something we are all guilty of from time to time.

So, how can we demonstrate our undivided attention when listening to a friend or colleague? We can try:

  • Maintaining eye contact. It really is as simple as it sounds – being visibly focused on the person you are listening to is a clear indicator of your engagement.
  • Putting the cellphone away. Removing this distracting device from eyesight will show the person you are more interested in what they have to say than a text message or your favourite game. If you need to have your phone in sight for a family member or work obligation, tell them! They will appreciate the heads up.
  • Being open and encouraging with body language. Slouching can suggest boredom and disinterest – to demonstrate your concentration try sitting upright and uncrossing your arms.

These tricks are as easy to observe as they are to implement. Making small gestures to showcase your interest will not only make the person feel more comfortable speaking to you, they will also open up more which will lead to a more informative and fulfilling conversation. This can be especially important in the workplace when working with a team; if you can make your team feel empowered to speak candidly about ideas or opinions, you will be more likely to effectively reach your goal, whether that’s finishing a project, making an important decision or brainstorming for the future.

As effectual as these small gestures are, we can take it one step further by summarizing what we’ve heard back to them. Lets think of an example – a colleague approaches you, telling you that their most recent performance evaluation didn’t go as well as they had hoped, and that they are angry that their hard work was not recognized. Instead of nodding along and then changing the subject, try describing it back to them and encouraging them to dig deeper by saying:

It sounds like your performance evaluation took you by surprise and was disappointing to you since your accomplishments were overlooked, is this correct?

By paraphrasing it back to them and asking for clarity, the person will know you not only heard their point, but that you also want to understand their point. Ending with a question keeps the focus on them, and gives them the chance to continue.

As great as it is to be listened to, it is nothing compared to the feeling of giving your presence to others! If you are looking for other ways to engage your employees, contact us! Our team at Salopek & Associates can work with your organization to develop people management skills and help make for a more engaging work environment!

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