By Debra Schmidt
Sometimes the most painful feedback can give you the greatest opportunity to grow. I still vividly remember an experience that happened to me 25 years ago. I was about six months into my new role as a manager when a very talented employee marched into my office and asked to speak with me privately.
I invited her to take a seat and she looked me right in the eye and said, “You’re a pretty good manager but I find it really frustrating to work for you.”
My stomach knotted up and although I was afraid to hear her response, I asked, “Why?”
She replied, “Because you never listen to me or the other employees on your team. You pretend you’re listening but we can tell that you’re not. You nod and say, ‘uh huh’ a lot, but it seems like you’re just going through the motions.”
Her words hurt but the message sunk in. After that conversation I solicited feedback from family and friends, asking them to evaluate my listening skills. Their comments were unanimous–I was a lousy listener. I was often more focused on what I was saying rather than on what I was hearing. As a result, I had a tendency to speak without thinking and frequently wished I could take back my words.
I decided it was time for me to learn how to be an better listener. I took classes, read books and even received some personal coaching to help me improve. I’m a fast-paced person and listening does not come naturally to me, so, even after all these years I need to stay diligent and continually work on these skills. Below is a list of some of the tips that I have found to be most helpful in my quest to keep my foot out of my mouth.
Here are 9 ways to become a better listener:
1. Evaluate your listening skills by paying attention to how you currently interact with others.
Which of these scenarios best fits your listening style?
- I do not listen to the speaker because I’m absorbed in my own thoughts.
- I contribute to the conversation but I give no indication of having heard the other person’s comments.
- When I respond, I accurately refer to what the other person has said without judging their opinions.
- I use appropriate body language and make comments to demonstrate empathy for the other person’s feelings.
2. Avoid distractions so you can concentrate on what the other person is saying.
Be careful not to read your email, glance at your watch or check your cell phone display. Each of these actions represents bad manners and you are sending a message that their words are less important than your toys. If you glance away while the other person is speaking you are sure to insult them.
3. Send nonverbal messages to indicate that you have heard what was being said.
Maintain eye contact, but don’t forget to blink, or you may make the other person uncomfortable. An occasional head nod (don’t get carried away with too much nodding), or leaning slightly forward demonstrates that you are actively engaged in the conversation.
4. Don’t make early evaluations.
Don’t be too quick to judge or offer an opinion even when you agree with the other person. Allow plenty of time for them to express their point of view and think carefully before you speak so you don’t hinder their thought process.
5. Practice reflective listening.
This is also called paraphrasing. Reflect back all or some of what the other person has shared to show that you were paying attention. For example, “If I’m hearing you correctly, what you are telling me that…” Only use this technique to reinforce important points. Over-use can make you come across as insincere.
6. Ask good questions for clarification and to show interest.
Ask open-ended questions that focus on something the other person has shared. For example, “Your travel plans sound exciting. Tell more about why and how you chose that destination.”
7. Learn to distinguish when it’s worth it to comment and when it’s not.
Think carefully before you speak. If your comments add value to the conversation, feel free to share them. But if they only serve to draw the attention back to you, it may be a good time to remain silent.
8. Encourage the other person.
Exhibit sincere enthusiasm and respect. Smile, avoid interrupting and use your best manners while listening.
9. Set aside your ego.
If you truly want to be an effective listener, you will need to focus less on you and more on the other person.
Due to the challenges of living in this fast-paced world, many people are poor listeners. Effective listening plays a critical role in business. The most successful people I know are people with solid listening skills. Improving your ability to listen will help you to earn respect, advance your career and generally improve all of your relationships.
Sometimes in your desire to handle workplace conversations as quickly as possible, you can neglect the use of common courtesies as you communicate. Yet the few extra seconds it takes to add them is well worth the time. If you simply focus on getting the task done and rush through internal and external service requests, you’ll miss tremendous opportunities to build loyalty. You’ll learn many more communication tips from the audio CD and handout, Do’s and Don’ts of Customer Communications.
Debra J. Schmidt is known as the Loyalty Leader® and is the author of Building Customer Loyalty from the Inside Out. As a consultant, trainer and professional speaker, Debra helps companies boost profits by leading the way to greater customer loyalty. Visit www.LoyaltyLeader.com to subscribe to Debra’s free online newsletter or learn how you can hire her deliver onsite training to you and your employees.