How to improve your listening skills

In the words of famed Wall Street investor Bernard Baruch, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” When you’re trying to get ahead at work, you’ll do well to heed those words. 

Being a good listener is a way to maintain strong relationships both in and out of the office. At work, it can also help you build trust and deal with problems more effectively -- which in turn can increase a business’ profits. If you’re in need of more effective listening skills, practice a few key things. 

Maintain Regular Eye Contact 

In the workplace, there’s usually a need for someone to take notes or check up on facts during meetings, but when possible, try to minimize those breaks from eye contact. When you’re trying to really understand what your co-workers are saying, you need to show them that you are. That means putting down the smart phone, keeping your eyes off your notepad and looking them in the eye. Of course, constant eye contact without any break at all can get awkward, but you should maintain eye contact long enough to signal to your co-worker that you’re paying attention. As a result, you’ll remove distractions that might be keeping you from actually listening. 

Pay Attention to Your Body Language

Beyond eye contact, take note of how you’re sitting, whether your arms and legs are crossed, and whether you’re sitting forward or leaned back. All of these can be indications of your intentions. When you lean forward, you indicate you’re interested in what the speaker has to say. When you cross your arms, you’re showing disinterest. These things might not necessarily make you a better listener, but they will send important signals to the speaker. 

Don’t Just Wait For Your Chance to Talk 

Conversations are a give-and-take experience; you say something, the other person responds. If you find yourself waiting for the other person to stop talking, it’s a sign that you’re not really listening. “Set your thoughts or your witty responses aside for a moment”, suggests John M. Grohol, Psy.D. of psychCentral, to allow yourself to actually hear what the other person is saying. It seems simple, but it might take some practice. 

Avoid Interrupting 

This goes along the same lines as “don’t just wait to talk,” but takes it one step further. Allow others to completely finish their train of thought before you make any move at all. Interrupting is a sure signal to others that you are not listening and that you don’t care what they have to say. 

Recap What the Other Person Said

“This is a great way to show the other person that you were actually listening”, suggests Grohol. Before you share your own thoughts, briefly summarize what the other person just told you. If you get it wrong and the other person corrects you, it’s a sign that you need even more practice in listening and processing other peoples’ thoughts. Keep trying! 

With the many distractions of the digital age and the modern workplace, active and effective listening might not come naturally -- but with practice, you can certainly improve. 


Image source iStock

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