Practical Strategies to Improve Listening Skills

We’ve explored the importance of listening in this series, and now it’s time to talk about some simple and practical strategies for honing your listening skills. It’s especially important for leaders, who have employees to manage and guide. Because simply standing in the room while someone talks is not enough.

Practical strategies to improve your listening skills

Glenn Llopis, leadership expert explains: “Listening goes well beyond being quiet and giving someone your full attention. It requires you to be aware of body language, facial expressions, mood, and natural behavioral tendencies. Listening should be a full-time job when you consider the uncertainty embedded in the workplace and the on-going changes taking place.

Luckily, whether you’re in a leadership role or not, it’s easy to tune in and listen more effectively by adding a few new tools to your toolbox. Keep these tips in mind next time you arrive to work, but remember: it will take time to turn them into habit. Don’t be afraid to consistently rely on them until they become second nature to how you behave in the office.

Practice active listening

Active listening is a way to make sure that you don’t just listen, you actually hear what’s being said. In the workplace, this is critical. Tuning out as someone starts talking doesn’t mean you’re listening. You’re simply present as they share important information that may be pertinent to your work.

That’s where active listening comes in. The practices involved in this tactic keep you focused on the conversation. When you’re focused, you don’t miss details about an important due date or incorrectly hear a question or concern. 

To get started, keep the six skills needed for active listening, as explained by the Center for Creative Leadership:

  • Pay attention. Allow the other person to speak.
  • Withhold judgement. Keep an open mind.
  • Reflect. Repeat what you’re hearing to stay engaged in the conversation.
  • Clarify. Ask questions.
  • Summarize. Re-state key points.
  • Share. Introduce your ideas and suggestions.

It will take practice to use these techniques in every conversation you have at work. As a reminder, write them on a sticky note at your desk for easy reference or run through them before a big meeting.

Get rid of distractions

One of the many reasons we don’t always listen is that we’re distracted. A phone vibrating in your pocket distracts as much as repeating something in your head as you wait for your turn to speak. In such cases, you’re no longer listening, but focusing on something other than what’s being said.

This is referred to as distracted listening. To avoid this listening inhibitor, eliminate potential distractions that are within your control. For example:

  • Keep your phone on silent in the office or leave it at your desk when going to meetings.
  • Close your laptop or turn off your screen when someone comes to speak with you.
  • Look at the speaker in the eye so you’re not distracted by employees nearby.
  • Take a hallway conversation into a conference room to find quiet conversation space.

Another hands-on tip is to practice concentrating, and avoiding distractions, in your own time. Harriet Griffey, author of The Art of Concentration, shares a fun exercise:

You can use music to practice this, the length of a track giving you between three to five minutes (or longer) on which to focus. Really listen to the nuances of the music, its notes, cadences, instruments used, lyrics. Music is often just a background noise but real, complicated musical notation can be more than just pleasurable, it can be a real boon to helping relearn concentration skills.

Show you’re listening

It’s often not enough to simply listen. To ensure your speaker knows you’re engaged, and is therefore encouraged to continue speaking, it’s important that you show that you’re listening. While some active listening habits, like reflecting, clarifying and summarizing show that you’re engaged in the conversation, you can take it one step further with body language.

Here are a few body language tips from the Global Listening Centre:

  • Nod your head to show understanding.
  • Tilt your head to show curiosity.
  • Open your body, arms and legs uncrossed.
  • Keep palms exposed or resting on the desk.
  • Smile when applicable.
  • Lean forward, rather than backward.

Improve your listening skills with simple strategies

Anyone can use these simple tips and strategies to better communicate in the office. Not only does listening more effectively ensure that you’re hearing any and all important information, but it also helps you show co-workers that you care about what they have to say. It also improves productivity. With less back and forth, there’s more time to start work on that project you discussed or resolve the customer issue you were just made aware of.

In our digital world, it’s easy to let these listening skills slack. However, everyone benefits when you listen more attentively, so use these strategies to hone your listening skills starting today.

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