Though we may not realise it, every day, both at work and home or play, we all tend to miss important information because we don’t listen properly. Failing to listen properly often means that we misunderstand and misinterpret ideas, feedback and information because of our own preconceptions, wishes, biases and fears.
Take, for example, the manager who dreads every year when summer rolls around because it will mean that his best assistant will be entitled to two weeks holiday. When the time comes the manager swears she wasn’t told while the assistant swears he began talking about it – and getting all the right permissions from HR – months ago. Chances are, he’s right, it’s just that his manager didn’t listen to what he said because it wasn’t something she wanted to hear.
These minor ‘slip ups’ can have serious repercussions at work though. They can foul up the workings of the office, resulting in a raise the cost of doing business, cause hurt feelings and generally lower morale. And the same is true after hours at home. Failing to listen properly can damage, even fracture, personal relationships too.
There is indeed, as G.K Chesterton once said, such a thing as the Art of Listening. And mastering it calls for more than a bit of work on your part. But if you are willing to put in the practice then the payoffs can be tremendous, both in and out of the workplace. Here’s a look at some of the things that have helped others master this tricky art and become better listeners.
Stop Monopolizing Your Conversations
If you tend to be the kind of person who prefers to dominate in most situations or feel that you have a much greater knowledge than others about certain subjects then the chances are good that you are not a great listener. There are fairly simple ways to change this though. Remain open to listening to what someone else has to say before butting in with what you think is the right answer, you might learn something or even gain some great new ideas. and make sure the other speaker has had a chance to finish making their point. Some people have a tendency to think aloud and take time to reach their point. Give them that time and you’ll probably get a lot more out of the exchange.
Don’t Judge the Speaker Too Soon
We do naturally often become sidetracked by a person’s tone of voice, mannerisms or even accent. But by thinking ‘what a monotone this guy speaks in’ or ‘I wish she’d stop waving her hands’ rather than actually listening to what is being said you can miss a lot. Good listeners learn to tune out these distractions and focus only on WHAT is being said, not on the WAY it is being said.
Don’t Pretend to Listen
If we have already decided that what a person is going to say is going to be boring, or something we are not going to like (remember the manager?) then we have a tendency to simply pretend to listen. But what we don’t realise is that often the other person is more than aware of that fact. They recognise that our “uh-huhs” are really “ho-hums.” and the likely outcome is that they either become confused, get annoyed, or stop talking at all. And any of these reactions can cause all kinds of trouble.
The best listeners stay alert and maintain eye contact. They use very simple gestures — nodding, raising the eyebrows, or leaning forward — to convey real interest without interrupting the speaker’s train of thought or offending them. And even if what is being said is a bit boring, by learning to do this you will at least be able to say that you listened and gave the person a chance.
As we mentioned previously, becoming a good listener takes work, but it is worth it. Especially if you want to become a better leader at work, a better employee, a better partner, parent or even just a better friend.