In an environment like the workplace, it can sometimes seem you have to display a consistent competitive nature in order to be successful. The pressure to constantly provide the newest and freshest ideas in order to prove your value can lead you to talking more than you listen. This is actually a hindrance to your professional communication skills and makes the workplace less inviting and more stressful. The ability to effectively listen is an important skill for anyone to have, but it is especially important amongst co-workers in order to generate ideas.
It is critical to understand the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is simply registering the words being said, while listening is paying close attention to what is being said and processing it. This type of listening is often referred to as “active listening,” which means you are listening with the intent to understand, not to respond. If you are only paying attention to what someone is saying to jump in with your own “bigger and better” ideas, you are not fostering good communication.
However, active listening is more than just paying close attention to a speaker, but also intentionally engaging with them. Asking questions about the topic or paraphrasing to make sure you understand are important steps in this communication process. These strategies ensure you are effectively listening and that you can offer informed feedback and responses at the appropriate times.
Another important part of active listening is making eye contact with the speaker and maintaining appropriate posture and facial expressions. You shouldn’t slouch or roll your eyes while someone is speaking, as this portrays negative feelings such as boredom or disinterest. Instead, you should maintain strong eye contact, sit up straight, and signal your understanding with a nod or smile. Also, be sure to be respectful and courteous to speakers. If you are unclear about a point, don’t interrupt, but rather wait for an opportunity to raise your hand and ask the speaker to clarify. If you are in a less formal environment, just wait for the speaker to finish his or her thought before asking your question.
Being an active listener is not reserved for only the audience. A presenter can also be an active listener, and it is perhaps even more important for them than their audience. In order to be an effective presenter, one must make sure the audience understands the material by surveying the room for any confused expressions or raised hands. Addressing these concerns as soon as possible will help the group stay engaged rather than being distracted by whatever their question may be. A speaker can also ask open-ended questions to the group in order to allow them to be a part of the conversation. By providing everyone with a chance to voice his or her opinion and then using those suggestions, a speaker can practice active listening to strengthen their message.
When both the audience and speaker are listening attentively with the intention of helping one another, the group dynamic is much less stressful and more likely to produce good ideas. Try to listen more than you speak, and do both respectfully with aims to collaborate and strengthen your goals.
For more information on active listening, read Alison Doyle’s “Active Listening Definition, Skills, and Examples” at https://www.thebalance.com/active-listening-skills-with-examples-2059684.
Written By: Allison Daniel