“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking” – Bernard M. Baruch
Listening is a skill that most of us believe we possess. We likely believe we are good, even effective listeners. We nod in the right places and might be able to recall exactly what someone has told us. Yet, when we speak to teams or organisations, not feeling listened to is such a commonplace complaint or criticism of colleagues or management.
There is a difference between hearing and listening. Described perfectly by Forbes, hearing is when you are only partially interacting in the conversation because you already have an agenda in mind and are waiting for the chance to go into “sales mode.” Listening – or rather, active listening – makes you influential because you are leaning into the person and trying to understand and build trust before developing solutions and recommendations.
Learning to listen actively and effectively is more important than ever. In fact, according to Seth Horowitz, an auditory neuroscientist from Brown University, “Listening is a skill we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distractions and information overload.” As leaders, listening is essential to organisational growth, recruitment, and staff retention. It’s a valuable way to gain insight, and – importantly – to bolster employee success, satisfaction, and wellbeing.
Active listening helps us to truly connect with others. By actively listening, we are able to fully engage with what the other person is saying and respond in an authentic, meaningful way. Yet, it is not a skill that always comes naturally and it’s a skill we are challenging more and more in the modern world. Here are a few tips for how to practice and be better at active listening:
Give your full attention
To be an effective listener, it’s important to give the person you’re listening to your full attention. This means putting away distractions, like your phone or computer, and focusing on what they’re saying.
Ask open-ended questions
Asking open-ended questions is a fantastic way to show that you’re actively listening and to encourage the other person to share more about themselves. Instead of asking closed-ended questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” try to ask questions that start with “how” or “what.”
Repeat back what you’ve heard
One of the best ways to show that you’ve been actively listening is to repeat back what the other person has said. This not only shows that you’ve been paying attention, but it also gives the other person the opportunity to correct or clarify anything that you may have misunderstood.
Interrupting a person you’re listening to can be incredibly frustrating and can make it difficult for them to fully express themselves. Instead, try to let them finish their thoughts before responding.
Active listening also includes being empathetic and understanding the other person’s perspective. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand their feelings.
Practice mindfulness can be helpful in active listening. It helps to be present in the moment, be aware of your thoughts, emotions, and your body’s reactions, this will help you to be more focused and attentive to what the other person is saying.
Being a better listener will stand you an excellent stead personally and professionally. It is a vital skill that helps us to understand and connect with others. By giving your full attention, asking open-ended questions, repeating back what you’ve heard, avoiding interrupting, showing empathy, and practicing mindfulness, you can become a better listener and strengthen your relationships. Active listening is an ongoing process and requires practice
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