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Become An Expert Listener in Five Steps

So much of our effectiveness at work is through the relationships we develop. How do we strengthen those connections and improve communication and understanding? And how do we do that in this busy world of work? The answer is “shift to listening” — really listening! We focus so much on telling, instructing, and conveying messages. To improve both communications and relationships, we need to talk less and listen more!

Many of our greatest communicators have understood the power of listening. Consider their insights:

  • “Silence is a source of great strength.” Lao Tzu
  • “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill
  • “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Ralph Nichols
  • “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.” Henry David Thoreau

Expert listening is a skill, and as with any skill, it takes focus and practice. Observe the following five steps and start on your journey to becoming an expert listener.

  1. Speak less. Be patient. Allow pauses so the speaker has space, time and permission to really form their thoughts and convey them completely. Don’t interrupt. Don’t rush to finish the speaker’s sentences.
  2. Pay attention to more than just the words. Take note of the speaker’s tone and body language. Focus on what’s being said and what’s not being said. Listen to rhythms, intensity and timbre for underlying themes and emotions. This focus helps you pull together all the information and makes for a more meaningful conversation.
  3. Really focus. Give the speaker your undivided attention. It’s so easy to be distracted – the phone, a long agenda, many “to do’s.” And lately, cell and smart phones have interfered with our ability to listen exclusively to the individual facing us in person. Leave your phone in your pocket while carrying on a conversation with someone else. This is not the time to multi-task.
  4. Ask questions. Show your interest by expressing your wish to learn more. Asking questions in response to what was said demonstrates that you have really been listening to what someone is saying.
  5. Repeat for clarity. By paraphrasing their communication, it not only helps you to clarify their meaning, but it establishes a connection and exhibits that their thoughts and opinions are important to you.