Sometimes it’s useful to be able to screen out unwanted noise, but if it’s an existing or prospective customer talking, then you need good listening skills. Some people are naturally gifted at summarising points succinctly, being interesting and maintaining attention, most though, in my experience are not, so as the listener we have to try harder.
Through effective listening, you build better relationships, avoid misunderstandings and make fewer mistakes. It’s worth spending some time to improve this skill.
Here are some tips, if you have any others, please share them with us.
Be Attentive and Maintain Eye Contact
Think about this: If you are trying to explain something to someone how do you feel if the person you are talking to is on their phone, looking at a screen or something else. It shows disrespect and it also means they are not really listening so are wasting your time.
When other things are on your mind, it’s easy to get distracted especially when the speaker takes ages to get to the point, a good tip to avoid your mind drifting is to maintain eye contact but don’t stare at the speaker. It also demonstrates to the speaker that you are following them.
Nods and the occasional yes tells the speaker you are following and helps to keep you listening.
Listen, Be Patient and Don’t Interrupt
If you disagree with something, the natural reaction is to speak out. By doing so, you start thinking about what you are going to say rather than listening, there may be more important points to hear. Interrupting can also raise tension. Aim to listen until there is natural break, before reacting too quickly, possibly without thinking things through thoroughly. Try the following approaches.
Repeating the point or question
This is a tactic often used by professional interviewers. After listening to the point, you repeat or summarise the main or key points. This demonstrates you have been listening, helps your brain store it. It also gives the chance of the speaker to make corrections and importantly, gives you time to prepare the right response.
Again this is a professional tactic, it’s obvious benefit is to seek further information. It’s also useful to steer the discussion in a particular direction giving it focus. Focussed conversations are much easier to listen to than those jumping all over the place.
Ask for a pause
Although intrusive, if too much data is being presented too quickly, don’t be afraid to ask the speaker to pause for a minute. It will give your brain a chance to catch up, signifies to the speaker you are trying hard to listen and sends a subliminal signal that they need to speak slower!
Be Open Minded
If you disagree with something, it’s easy to switch off, it’s as though the brain says “This person is talking rubbish so don’t listen.” However hard it can be, you need to keep an open mind and listen to what is being said. The tools in the point above can help in this challenging situation. Often through the process of clarifying, disagreement points subdue.
Avoid at all costs, aggressive interruptions, bite your tongue if needed!
When you do respond, a less aggressive way of disagreeing is to ask the speaker what their view on your understanding of the issue is.
Our brain processes images easier than words. Try to relate what is being said to a real world situation you are familiar with can help understanding. Take care you don’t let your imagination run wild and stop listening. At a break, you can question the speaker as the whether the scenario you are visualising is accurate.