Are You Listening? 4 Steps to Becoming a Better Listener
by Cheryl Marks Young
When someone is speaking to you, are you actively listening? If you have ever heard an employee pitch an idea with one eye on your laptop screen, you need to read this. If your modus operandi is to nod in time to the cadence of the speaker’s speech pattern while planning out your response, you need to read this, too.
The good news is that anyone can master the art of active listening with a little effort and practice. Start by following these four steps to hone your skills:
Ditch the distractions
Active listening requires you to be focused on the speaker. Your email inbox and your text alerts will wait. It also means no fidgeting, watch checking, or doodling.
Show your focus
Your body language will illustrate your interest and attention. Make eye contact with the speaker and nod occasionally. Mirror the speaker’s facial expressions as appropriate to show empathy. Lean in slightly and tip your head a bit to the side.
Note: Direct eye contact can make some uncomfortable (and it’s outside the accepted norm in certain cultures). That’s okay. Look at the speaker and gauge how much eye contact is appropriate for his or her comfort level. Continue to visually focus on the speaker, and understand the look may not be returned.
Repeat, reflect, and ask
No one wants to speak to a parrot. That’s not where this is going; however, restating the speaker’s primary points will confirm that you were listening and that you understood. As an example, you might use statements like: “What I hear you saying is…” and “I hear that you are concerned about…”
In a similar vein, be ready to ask questions in order to clarify your understanding. “What do you mean when you say…?” or “What I hear is ___. Is this correct?”
You don’t want to interrupt when someone is speaking, but short verbal affirmations and acknowledgements (e.g., Okay, I see, right) show you’re engaged in the conversation.
When the conversation turns to you, offer specific feedback. Using the repeat, reflect and ask step is a good start, but it’s also appropriate to add an honest and specific response of your own. That might even mean saying, “I appreciate you sharing your ideas with me. I’d like to look into the feasibility of this and I’ll get back to you.”