Listening is, without a doubt, the most important business skill you should master. It’s crucial to success in any situation, whether it be a group meeting, an interview, giving or receiving feedback, or handling customer complaints. You must understand fully what the other party says, the way it’s said, the motivation behind it, and the speaker’s feelings. Here are the basics of good listening.
You need to give the speaker your full attention. This is why important meetings are held in empty conference rooms. Never try to multitask when you should be listening. Meet in a quiet place with no distractions or interruptions. If you’re on the phone or online, shut down all other programs or devices. Shut your door, clear your desk and turn off other devices.
The Voices in Your Head
Keep mental distractions at bay as well. If something is on your mind, set it aside for now and save it for later. We often stop listening when we start thinking of comments we want to say or things we want to ask. If these thoughts arise, quickly jot them down on a notepad and come back to them when the speaker is done talking. You could even ask the person to stop for just a second while you write something down that relates to what they said.
Show You’re Listening
It’s important to let the speaker know you’re focusing on them and listening. Sit up straight in an attentive position, not slumped over or looking bored. Maintain eye contact and don’t look elsewhere. You can let them know you’re listening by repeating back things they say for clarification.
When talking on the phone, verbal clues like ‘yes,’ ‘uh-huh’ and ‘okay’ show that you’re listening, as does repeating back what they’ve said for confirmation that you understand.
Asking questions helps for two reasons. The first is that it shows you’re listening. The second is for clarification. You should never make assumptions. If there’s anything that you don’t understand completely, ask the speaker to explain a little more. People often say “there’s no such thing as a stupid question”, and that’s absolutely true. It’s better to confirm what you think someone has said than to go with what you assume and end up making a colossal mistake.
When the speaker shares feelings with you, show them empathy. This is important to do even if you disagree with them. A big part of listening is simply validating the speaker’s opinion and allowing them to get their feelings off their chest. For example, “that sounds really frustrating” or “that must have been scary for you”.
Remembering What You’ve Heard
Listening well is one challenge. The other is actually remembering what you’ve heard. The best way to remember is to jot down main points. Also write down observations like ‘seems agitated’ or ‘nervous when he/she talked about…’ Take note of non-verbal clues as well, such as posture and hand gestures.
You can practice listening in non-business situations to help when you need this skill at work. Listen closely to your spouse, family members, kids, friends, and other acquaintances on a daily basis. Work on being fully present as you listen and recalling details about their words and non-verbal clues later.
For the best practice, try to remember the exact words they said. With practice, you’ll find that it’s mainly a matter of mindset. You just need to get into the ‘listening zone.’