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Top 7 Ways to Listen Up to Improve Communication
By Sue Brenner, PCC, PMP
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Do you find yourself talking on and on without letting anyone get a word in edge-wise? Do you think about what you'll say next instead of putting your full attention on what someone is saying? Do people such as your boss, co-workers or spouse tell you that you're a poor listener? The good news is that listening is a skill that you can learn and get better at with practice. So if your ears may as well be stuffed with cotton or you listen well but want to improve, use these 7 tips to listen to improve your communication.
- Develop the Desire to Listen
Kenn MacKenzie, a director in high tech, says, "In today's work environment, where we are fast driven by increasing productivity demands, reduced time to market, reducing costs and working across different global time zones there is an even greater need to slow down and listen more." Listening builds trust and relationships. When you let others talk, you get the chance to hear the other person’s problems, needs and opportunities. So if you meet with potential clients, hear them out, listen to their needs and you'll be more likely to close the deal. Learn to like listening and enjoy a two-way conversation.
- Talk Less
If you love to talk, why would you want to improve your listening skills? Even if you have the 'gift of gab,' train yourself to talk less at least some of the time. If you talk on and on, chances are the other person won't be listening the whole time anyway (so you can just talk into a recording device if you really need to talk). For high stakes situations, like a job interview, be sure to listen at least as much as you talk. When you get the interviewer talking, you'll hear much more about the position and the needs of the company. Valuable information!
- Ask Questions
A great way to talk less and listen more is to become curious and interested in the other person. Especially with introverted people, ask questions to draw the other person out. Use simple, open-ended questions as opposed to yes or no questions. Then stop talking to hear their response. Avoid questions that elicit defensiveness. These questions usually begin with "why." For example, "Why is there conflict on the team?" Instead, use "what" or "how" questions to keep the conversation productive, such as, "What ideas do you have for getting the project on track?"
- Let There Be Silence
Joanne, an advertising sales person, hired a coach to improve her bottom line. Outgoing and full of vitality, Joanne loved to talk. Her coach suggested that she work on listening and allowing silence in conversations. "We're going to have one minute of silence right now," her coach said. About 10 seconds in, Joanne said, "Oh, I don't like this. This is uncomfortable," but they carried on for the full minute. Even if it makes you nervous, allow breaks in a conversation, perfect silence. With this one communication tool, Joanne increased her sales by 30% the first month she tried it and by 10% overall that year.
- Remove Distractions
Your subordinate is sitting in your office to discuss a difficult customer. The ding of your email inbox keeps sounding and you glance up at the screen every time. Turn off sounds and other distractions so that you provide full focus on the other person. It will actually save you time if you hear the person out without having to meet again because you really weren't listening. Additionally, the person will feel more important. Learn to remove the distractions in your own head as well. If you find yourself saying, "Bob sure is wearing a loud yellow tie," put your attention back on their words and remind yourself to listen.
- Show You Are Listening
Talking less and allowing silence are a start to effective listening. Take it a step further by actively showing you're listening. Nod your head and give verbal cues that show you're paying attention such as, "uh, huh." Also, paraphrase what the other person is saying from time to time. This is an opportunity to show active listening and to gain clarity and understanding. Give them a chance to correct you if you're off base. Repeating back what a person has said doesn't equate to automatically agreeing with what was said, but it does show you've heard it.
Do you remember a time when someone listened and empathized with you? Most people are hungry to be seen and heard. Often times, they don't need a solution to a problem, they just need to talk out loud and have someone listen. It doesn't matter whether you've gone through the same experience as the other person. You can still show compassion. For example, you arrive at work and your co-worker is packing up his things because he got laid off. Without trying to hand him a Band-Aid, listen to him. Empathize. Pack a few boxes with him. Show that you care.
And if you want to learn more success tips, then 'The [N]aked Desk' author, Sue Brenner, invites you to attend a free 'Ask Sue' tele-seminar by visiting http://www.suebrenner.com
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Article Submitted On: October 09, 2008