General Guidelines for Effective Listening

Effective listening is a critical part of communicating—you can’t have one without the other. No matter where your position lies in the chain of command. Both managers and entry level employees alike need to hear feedback, take direction and understand the needs of the people around them.

In the realm of communication, it’s important to be aware of the difference between hearing and listening. Here’s their definitions:

  • To hear is “to perceive or become aware of by the ear; to gain knowledge of…
  • To listen, on the other hand, is “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention; give consideration.

This introductory article of a two-month series on listening will break down four strategies to become a more effective listener with your boss, colleagues, employees and stakeholders.

When you harness these tactics in your interactions with other people, the result is greater competence at work and improved relationships with everyone around you.

Be curious about the other’s viewpoint

There will be many times in which you disagree with or are disinterested in what another person is telling you. This is not an excuse to tune out from the conversation. Whatever information they’re sharing matters to them. And in the workplace, it may also be important to successfully completing a project or understanding feedback.

Treat all dialogue that bores or challenges you as an opportunity to test your own resistance. Find out how something that might otherwise seem unimportant can help. Such an exercise in curiosity allows you to better understand and collaborate. And according to Harvard Business Review, it can produce a 34 percent boost of creativity.

If you want to be seen as competent in your role and innovative in how you approach problems and work with others, effective listening is critical.

Tune into both the verbal & non-verbal cues

It’s as important to focus on the words being spoken as it is to take in the non-verbal cues being given. Nearly 35 percent of communication is verbal, while 65 percent is nonverbal, explains Ray Birdwhistell, anthropologist, to the New York Times.

The New York Times indicates that, while you do need to absorb the content, the delivery carries more weight. The study of these nonverbal cues is known as kinesics. It involves reading the other’s facial expression, vocal tone or inflection, and body language. This happens not just to consume the information, but to infer how they feel about the points they are communicating.

To truly listen, pay attention to facial expressions, hand gestures, and body positioning. You don’t need to be an expert at reading these cues! Instead, rely on your knowledge of what someone looks like when they’re confident versus concerned, unhappy or confused to articulate your response.      

Focus on the message instead of your response

You may be mentally crafting your response as someone is speaking, rather than completely focusing on what the person is saying. With a preoccupied mind however, you risk missing the crux of that other person’s message.

This is why the idea of active effective listening is so crucial. It transforms the listener from a passive sounding board into an immersed and dynamic participant.

When listening actively, SkillsYouNeed explains that you, as the listener, should be providing feedback, like:

  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Nodding and smiling
  • Saying “yes” or “mmm hmm”

Summarize what was said

Another important tool for effective listening is repetition. When you truly listen to someone, you should be able to repeat back what’s been said to you. Making this a consistent practice holds you accountable to listening, not just hearing.

By repeating back what you’ve heard, you also open up the conversation for more clarification, making sure everyone is on the same page. This helps avoid miscommunication between the talker and listener, which 80 percent of employees agree occurs regularly in their workplace.

This way, everyone is more effective and productive at work by having a successful conversation from the start.

Open yourself to feedback

Improve your performance in the office and become more integrated and relational with co-workers by listening rather than simply hearing.

Become better at this critical skill by getting curious, watching for non-verbal cues, and listening actively. When you do, you may find you’re more productive and effective in your work.

Check back for more on the importance of listening in the workplace to learn more.

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