The dawn of a new year is an ideal time to set yourself a goal of learning a new skill, or improving
upon a skill which you already have but have yet to master. If by chance you haven’t really set a goal for yourself, I’d like to encourage you to consider listening better as a personal goal.
Listening is a transferable skill which when you master it, will improve both your personal and professional life, enhance your reputation and will encourage others around you to share differently and more meaningfully with you. That’s a lot of good reasons, especially when you consider there is no costs associated with listening more effectively. No membership to buy and no guilt when you don’t use it either!
Would being seen as a more effective listener be beneficial to you in your workplace? If so, then there is some sense of buy-in for you I hope; something tangible that you can then point to in the future and say to yourself that you will be able to see some personal gain if you acquire or perfect the skill of listening. Buy-in is critical to any self-improvement. Without it, you are likely going to fail because there is no long-term commitment or personal benefit to a goal even if you obtain it otherwise.
Okay so how to become a better listener; that’s the next logical step. One of the simplest things you can do is remove the distractions which are all around us when we are around others. So if someone says, “Can I talk to you for a moment”, turn away from any electronic distractions such as your cell phone, I-pod, I-pad, Computer or tablet, look the person full-on and give them your undivided attention. If the phone rings, let it go to your answering machine and call the person back rather than glancing at the caller ID.
When you are turned and looking straight at the speaker, tell yourself you are making a focused effort to practice better listening and quiet all the inner thoughts you are having about other subjects. Ask the person if you could repeat what they’ve told you just to ensure you’ve heard them correctly because you value what they’ve said and want to make sure you fully understand what they’ve said the way they intended.
People – all people – want to feel that they are heard, listened to and correctly understood. What happens after you’ve heard them moves beyond effective listening. In other words, you make be moved to counter an argument, make a change to the staff schedule, hold fast to your original position in the case of a decision to be made, or maybe even initiate something that you hadn’t planned on because you listened and received new information you were previously unaware of.
Listening has the immediate impact of making the speaker feel valued and important. Consider the opposite in contrast. Suppose you say hello and ask for a moment’s time to someone with their back to you who is on their computer working away and they don’t pause but say, “Hi, sure go ahead.” You notice they remain with their back to you, and keep pounding away on the keyboard. The message you would receive as the person initiating a conversation is one where their words, “Sure go ahead” and their action of still turning away from you and continuing to use the keyboard are at odds with each other. Do you have their full attention? No. Did they give you permission to talk with them? Yes. The result, you may have to repeat whatever you’re saying, but at the very least you will feel secondary to whatever they are doing which they’ve assigned more importance to than you.
Give yourself a good half a year to work on your listening skills. Practice stopping whatever it is you are doing and turning to face people speaking with you. When you eliminate other activities and do this, remind yourself almost mechanically that you are practicing better listening. You will eventually find that the mechanics part of this skill start to become ingrained. You are in fact reprogramming your neural code and learning a new behaviour or improving significantly on one that you may do well sometimes and not so well at other times.
One of the great benefits of listening more effectively is that you will be given information of greater significance. If people brand you in their minds as a good listener, you’re going to be trusted with more relevant information. This new information you receive may help you in the end get to better results in shorter periods of time, increase your productivity and perhaps help advance you in your position or make you a more valuable person on your existing team.
Of course being a better listener and one that is fully engaged in the listening process requires commitment. If you feel yourself wandering away mentally and thinking about other things while someone is talking, you have to tell yourself that what they are talking about is important to them even if it’s not to you. Disciplining yourself to staying focused so they walk away feeling satisfied that you heard them correctly is important so at other times they talk to you openly about the things that are important to you and the work you do.
Consider investing yourself in becoming a more effective listener. Do it for you!