First Job: How to Be a Good Listener

Have you ever been in a conversation where someone keeps checking their email, looking at their mobile or otherwise scanning the room? Do you feel like they are really hearing you? Kind of frustrating, isn't it?

Imagine if you were having a conversation with your boss, asking for a raise or negotiating a new assignment and she was multitasking. Would you feel "heard?" How well could you present your case in that situation? How confident would you be in the response you get?

Well, I suspect it's something we all tend to struggle with. We have so many gadgets, devices and "notifications" that seem to scream for our infinite attention every minute of the day. We can actually trick ourselves into believing that they are always more important than a conversation that's unfolding right in front of us. But the fact is, they're not.

One of the most precious gifts we can give in the workplace (or anywhere, really) is the gift of being a good listener. It's through the action of listening effectively, not just talking, that we collaborate better as a team, push forward toward goals, and build relationships with others.

If you find yourself struggling to be a good listener, here are some tips that can help you. In the process, you'll add more value and richness, and better outcomes, to your conversations. It's also a reputation building.

1. Get present. Push other conversations and activities from your mind and be present to the conversation at hand. Yes, this might be challenging, but necessary for you to be able to really listen. Put yourself in the other guy's shoes, you'd appreciate the same.

2. Focus. Put away the mobile, the texting, the notebook and focus on this conversation.

3. Suspend judgment. The idea is to listen with neutrality, so suspend judgment of any kind. If you aren't thinking about validating (or refuting) the other person's comments, you can totally focus on listening.

4. Avoid facial expressions. I was once taught to listen without making any facial expression, including nodding or smiling. I'm not talking blank stare, glazed over look. I'm talking about a neutral facial expression that says, "I'm listening." Engaged, but not presumptive.This is the physical manifestation of suspending judgment and it really does help you focus on listening. Try it and see.

5. Watch your non-verbal feedback. Avoid the furrowed brow, crossed arms, facial expressions, posture or other non-verbal cues that might transmit you have other things you'd rather be doing.

6. Don't interrupt. This presumes you knew what someone was going to say. In fact, you don't.

7. Ask validating questions. These validate that you are "receiving" correctly, and, ensure you and the speaker are on the same page, once the speaker has completed her thought.

  • So what I hear you saying is. Am I getting that right?
  • Can you repeat that? I want to make sure I heard you correctly.

8. Ask clarifying questions. These questions help clarify something you might not understand after the speaker has completed a thought.

  • When you say Plan B what specific Plan B are you referring to?
  • What do you mean when you say Plan B?
  • Tell me more about that.

9. Avoid listening bias. What I mean by that, is don't discount listening to someone because they are a different gender, not as smart, fro a different department or subordinate, to you. They may know something, or have a unique perspective, that you don't. Every conversation has potential value. If you're not listening, you won't find it.

I challenge you to try these techniques in at least one conversation per day. Then see how that conversation stacks up against the others where you are not focusing quite as much.
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