Friday, November 4, 2011

Seven Ways to Be a Better Listener

By Alli Polin

Most people have had a phone call or even been in someone's office to discuss an important topic and have left the conversation feeling like they were not heard at all. What was it about that experience that didn't work? The person you were talking to was a bad listener. We've all been there - distracted, busy, uninterested... there are a million reasons that we make up for not listening to another person. It's time to ditch the excuses and become a better listener.

Why do I need to be a better listener?

1) Opportunity to hear new ideas that may spark innovation and new ways of thinking

2) Respect for the individual in front of you whether it's on the phone or in person

3) Great leaders listen to others because they know that a basic human need is to be truly heard

Ready for the good news? Effective listening does not mean long drawn out conversations! It's not about the length of the discussion (time); it's the quality of the interaction that is most important. Regardless if the conversations you participate in are scheduled or impromptu, you can be a better listener by actively applying the following seven steps.

1) Stop what you're doing - When someone asks for your time and you agree to give it to them, stop whatever tasks you were in the middle of doing and get ready to listen.

2) Resist the urge to multitask - IMs popping up on your screen? Emails flowing in like a waterfall? If you're on the phone, turn your back on your computer and turn your Smartphone upside down and ignore it. If you're in person, you can still turn away from your computer or better yet, if possible, close your laptop.

3) Don't interrupt over and over and over (WAIT) - Remember to WAIT when speaking with others (Why Am I Talking). If they can't get a word in edgewise because you're sharing your knowledge and experience, asking a ton of questions like a firing squad, or giving direction, the person you are speaking to will not feel heard because they could hardly get their thoughts out.

4) Get out of your own head (stop the internal dialog) - When you catch yourself going over your next point in your head, or going over your grocery list or anything else for that matter - STOP. Listening is about hearing the other person and you can only do that if you're really focusing on what they have to say.

5) Ask questions - Seek to understand! Confused on a point? Ask questions for greater clarity. Unsure of the objective? Ask what they want to see happen. Your questions will not only keep you actively engaged in the conversation but will also help the speaker clarify and get value from your conversation as well.

6) Playback - Summarize the feeling and content of the conversation. It will serve to ensure you're on the same page and to give you an opportunity to keep the discussion moving forward. Try phrases like: "What I hear you saying is..." "It sounds like..." "Is this a fair summary of what's you're saying?" "I can really hear your passion around this topic"

7) Confirm any action points - If there are action items for either one of you, make sure that they are explicitly restated at the end. Others will appreciate that you know where things are heading and you're on board.