As a professional speaker my job requires a lot of listening. I have to listen to the needs of the client before I can create the presentation. Because I spend most of my stage time talking I have had to work on and improve my listening skills. I get paid to talk but I am a much better speaker when I open my ears and my mind, receive and listen. The ability to read your audience depends on your ability to listen with both your eyes and ears. Many times I must shift my content to fit the needs of the audience in front of me.
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”–Peter Drucker
Listening creates understanding—it helps get things done correctly; it’s part of learning, and it shows others that we value them. Listening deepens relationships and grows trust and appreciation. So we get that listening is important, but how much time do we actually put into improving our listening skills? We spend 60% of our time listening but we only retain 25%. Most workplace and life mistakes happen because someone isn’t listening.
Many of us don’t consciously realize that listening is a critical component in the communications loop. We think listening just happens, and that we don’t need to make an effort to effectively hear what people are saying because we have ears for that. Active listening takes a little practice! If we are to learn from others, we need to optimize our communication skills by effectively closing the conversation loop, and to do that we need to improve our listening skills.
Here are some tips to elevate your listening experience:
- Stop talking. You can’t multitask speaking and listening. It’s impossible. When you are talking, you are not listening. And this also applies to that little voice talking inside your head. (I know for a fact that we women have more than one voice inside our head—we have an entire committee chatting it up!) Consequently, Rule #1 is to “Stop the Talking!”
- Look at the person who is talking, pay attention and receive their message. Take time to notice their facial expressions and their body language. We gather more information from non-verbal signs and tone of voice than we do from a person’s actual words. Active listening requires an understanding of what someone is saying with their gestures, eye contact, and tone of voice as well as their words.
- Focus and eliminate distractions. Turn off the phone or TV, and put down that iPad. When you interrupt someone to check your messages, you are sending a signal that you are not interested in what they have to say. Try to create an environment in which you can listen without distractions and think clearly about the input and ideas of others.
- Don’t make assumptions. Don’t jump to conclusions, or react before the speaker has had a chance to express himself/herself. Don’t try to solve the problem before they have completed presenting their issue.
- Be polite. Don’t finish the other person’s sentences. Wait until the speaker is finished talking before deciding if you agree or disagree. Don’t try to solve the problem or come up with the answer while the speaker is still talking.
- Ask good questions. Learn how to create thought-provoking conversations. Ask meaningful questions that get to the heart of the matter. A good question gets the speaker to think more deeply and perhaps expand the conversation.
- Ask for feedback on your ideas. The opportunity to give and receive feedback allows us to give guidance and make adjustments. Feedback helps make sure that all parties are hearing the same message, and it lessens miscommunication.
- Repeat what people say and summarize. Offering a comment like, “Let me be sure I understand what you’re saying. You’re saying that …?” or you may say, “So you are thinking” – This helps to prevent misunderstandings and shows that you are really listening
- Avoid contradicting, offering suggestions, and offering your personal affirmations while the speaker is speaking. Let them talk without your interruptions or side remarks.
- Practice all of the above!
Practicing active listening skills will transform your interaction with others. Listening helps generate solutions, stimulates creativity, encourages collaboration, and enriches your business and social connections. By honoring others with your time and attention, you’ll energize conversations and come up with ideas and solutions that you’d never find on your own.
Karen McCullough is a nationally known keynote speaker and expert on change, generational opportunities and workforce trends.
Karen helps organizations cut through the generational biases and get back to reality by leveraging their team’s strengths, enriching the work environment, and driving better results. Each of her presentations brings a realistic perspective on workplace trends, employee engagement, while offering actionable content.
For the past 15 years Karen has shared her insights to top organizations such as VMware, Procter & Gamble, US Department of Justice, JPMorgan Chase, Symantec, McGraw-Hill, National Homebuilders, Shell Oil, Mercedes Benz, The World Bank, American National Insurance, Humana, United Way, American Heart Association and MD Anderson Cancer Center.