3 Simple Strategies for Changing Habits
Ringing in the New Year, anticipating a high school reunion or simply reading a powerful magazine article can all inspire…
When you think about improving your professional performance and advancing in your career, you likely consider a public speaking class or learning about the newest technology in your field. However, there’s one skill that’s crucial to nearly every profession but is woefully overlooked and underutilized: effective listening.
As skills go, listening just doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Why? Maybe because listening, however unfairly, is often viewed as the quieter, homelier cousin of talking. But for communication to work, it requires collaboration: someone to talk and someone to listen, both equally vital.
Despite their demure reputation, effective listening skills can be game changing. Whether you’re a senior leader, manager or individual contributor, it’s worth investing the time to develop these skills that will serve you well throughout your career.
The importance of effective listening in today’s workplace can perhaps be best illustrated when weighing the impact of its absence: Without it, assumptions are made and misunderstandings arise. As a result, costly mistakes occur, deadlines aren’t met, opportunities are missed and ineffective decisions are reached. Relationships with coworkers, vendors and customers are damaged. Reputations are tarnished, great employees are lost and profits suffer.
It’s only by listening that you can understand others, their views and their needs. That understanding allows you to gain new information, consider new perspectives, see new opportunities and create new solutions. It also helps you address issues before they become bigger, more complex and more expensive.
On a more personal level, listening to another person sends the message that you care about and respect them and are genuinely interested in their ideas. This creates and builds trust with others, and inspires loyalty and hard work. When your coworkers or your team members know that they will be heard, they’re more willing to share their ideas and their honest feedback which, in turn, fuels innovation, employee engagement, productivity and profitability.
Ultimately, effective listening makes you a better leader, coworker and employee.
“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. … When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” – Karl A. Menninger
While today’s technology offers the opportunity to connect more often with more people than ever before, it can also provide an overwhelming level of distraction, making effective listening much more challenging.
According to recent research from Accenture, 96 percent of global professionals think of themselves as good listeners, but 98 percent also say that they multitask. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) reported that “listening has become significantly more difficult in today’s digital workplace.”
When a workplace conversation requires your undivided attention, use the seven strategies below to demonstrate that you’re a committed listener.
Not all listening is created equal, nor should it be. You can’t possibly give your full attention to everything that you hear throughout the day.
But there are times that call for your full focus, such as when your coworker is sharing a concern about a project you’re leading or your direct report is explaining their idea for improving a key process. It’s during these times that it’s important to understand two different levels of listening: attentive listening and empathic listening.
With attentive listening, you are genuinely interested in the other person’s point of view and you accept the fact that you have something to learn from the interaction. However, you are listening with your own frame of reference in mind, often thinking about whether you agree with what’s being said and how you want to respond. Therefore, you make assumptions about the message and tend to fill in the gaps with whatever it is that you want to hear. You don’t check to see if what you have heard is what the speaker really meant to say.
Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. – Stephen R. Covey
Empathic listening, however, is much more active and intentional. When you move from attentive listening to empathic listening, a powerful shift occurs: Your focus changes from yourself and your perspective to the speaker and their frame of reference. This level assumes that communication is truly a two-way process that involves giving feedback to the speaker.
Practice the following active listening techniques to show that you are available, ready to pay attention and interested in what the other person has to say.
“We have but two ears and one mouth so that we may listen twice as much as we speak.” – Thomas Edison
Just as there are specific behaviors that support effective listening, there are also ones that interfere with healthy communication — all of which stem from focusing your attention on yourself and your objective instead of the speaker and their goal:
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