Effective communication skills are one of the most important skills to develop and one of the hardest to achieve. Most people think they communicate well, but very few people actually understand how to do it effectively.
It’s easy to think we’re listening to someone when they talk, but do we really understand what they’re saying? Almost without exception, what we are really doing is listening to hear the pause in their conversation so we can interrupt them and give our perspective. It’s more important to us to show others that we have the knowledge, share a similar story or defend our position, than it is to truly take the time to hear what they’re actually saying. We make the conversation about us instead of about the other person and the point they’re trying to make.
Here are four ways to improve your listening skills and thus, improve the relationships you have at work.
1. SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND
It most conversations, we are more interested in getting our point across or explaining our side of the story than we are in truly listening to the other person’s perspective. If we want to become better listeners, we must first seek to understand what the other person is trying to say. Are they expressing a concern or stressed out about something? Do they not understand their role on the project? Solutions can only be found after we have a clear understanding of the situation. We have to take the time to listen to what is being said instead of reacting to it.
2. BE PRESENT IN THE MOMENT
This is probably the hardest listening skill to develop. In our chaotic world where we are constantly attached to our electronics, it is hard to simply be present in the conversation. Provide your complete attention and focus on your audience with eye contact to indicate your sincere and complete interest. Suppress the urge to check your smartphone or computer while someone is trying to have a conversation with you.
3. PRACTICE ACTIVE LISTENING
Think of active listening as a muscle you need to constantly exercise in order to make stronger. Ask a different peer or employee a question about the details or progress of a project, the company culture or just what’s new in their life. By constantly exercising your listening skills, not only will it help you to discover potential problems and solutions, but it will build trust and positive relationships in your work environment.
4. CLARIFY AND VALIDATE
Clarify and validate what you hear the other person saying. Be patient and remain quiet while the person makes their point and asks for your opinion or solution. Then take a deep breath and say, “What I hear you saying is…”. Or if you are still unclear of their perspective, ask for more clarification on the subject until you can repeat what they said. By clarifying and validating what they said, you’re showing that person how much you value them by clearly understanding their point. This builds mutual trust and is a key building block to developing better relationships.
Listening is a skill that can be learned by anyone. It simply takes the desire, knowledge and practices to do it well. Use these tips to develop your listening skills and watch how it creates better personal and professional relationships.