The wide range of social media tools available to us, now more than ever, has redefined our understanding of communication, particularly in business. While such contemporary methods of communication have provided us with a new platform to operate from they have also, arguably, subverted some of the fundamentals of basic communication.
Listening is key to effective communication. In business listening can result in increased client satisfaction, greater staff productivity, fewer errors and a sharing environment conducive to innovative problem solving.
Dianne Schilling in an article for Forbes offers the following simple techniques to improve your listening skills.
Give the speaker your full attention and maintain eye contact
Focus on the speaker. The obvious yet often most difficult tip is to remove all distractions when someone is speaking to you. Filter out passers by, put aside the paper and look the speaker in the eye. Initial eye contact is a must in effective listening. Even if the speaker avoids eye contact with you excuse them and keep your focus.
Be attentive, but relaxed
Once the effort to make eye contact is made you can then relax. Too much eye contact can make the speaker nervous – the power is in the balance. Do, however, remain attentive to your speaker.
Keep an open mind
Be as non judgemental as possible. As soon as you let loose that inner critic you diminish your effectiveness as a listener. Do not jump ahead to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is trying to relay their thoughts and feelings to you which you cannot learn unless you listen. The same goes for hastening the speaker’s articulation by finishing their sentences. This is an indication of your thought process only and may be wide of the mark.
Try to picture what the speaker is saying
In a conversation don’t view your time as the listener as a rehearsal of what you will say next. You cannot do both simultaneously. Think only about what the other person is saying.
Create a mental model of the information you are being given. This will keep your brain focused. If you find your thoughts starting to wander immediately force yourself to concentrate.
Do not interrupt or offer solutions
When listening to someone discussing a problem refrain from suggesting solutions. Most people do not want advice but someone to listen and help them figure it out. In the same vein if you are unclear about something the speaker has said do not interrupt them mid-flow rather wait for a pause before you ask for clarification.
Ask questions only to ensure understanding
Something that happens all too often in conversations is that the listener asks a question which distracts the speaker from their original point. This is easily done and can unintentionally steer the conversation down another course. When you notice that the speaker has been lead astray take responsibility by guiding the conversation back to its starting point.
Give regular feedback
Show that you understand where the speaker is coming from without throwing in your tuppence worth. If you find that you are unclear about something then an occasional paraphrase can do wonders. Do not underestimate the power of a well timed nod or “hmmm”.
At the end of a conversation where information has been exchanged finish with a quick summary. This is particularly appropriate in agreements regarding future obligations or activities. A little summing up of what you have just learned or what the parties intend to do next will ensure accuracy and highlight that you took on board everything your speaker mentioned.