Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Listening is Important

There are countless articles on personal development and workplace subjects such as leadership, teamwork, and communication. It’s a good habit to read what you can, especially if you see something interesting and pertinent to you. This week, I read several articles on communication, and one theme that I saw among many of the articles was the subject of listening and why listening is vital to everyone.

We probably all think we listen well and need no help. However, several studies and observations I read about this week say otherwise. That is, thought leaders and experts say that things could go much better in our personal and professional lives if we listened more, listened better, and showed to others that we were listening to them.

Sounds simple, yes? In practice, listening well is a challenge to most people because we have flaws in the communication process. In addition, we have to listen and perceive through different channels of communication, such as over the phone, in-person, by email, and through other written products.

These communication flaws that pop up can take several forms, such as an improperly constructed message that we want to send to others, a breakdown in the communication channel, and an inability of the receiver to receive the message. Later on in another blog post, I will look at these areas in more detail.

For today, I want to focus on something that occurs in the third category (the inability of the receiver to receive the message), and in doing so, I offer some ideas on how we, as receivers, can listen better. These tips apply to everyone. Whether you're a team member, leader, or sole contributor, listening well to others is crucial to your ability to get things done, thrive on and off the job, and successfully communicate with others.

4 Tips to Better Listening

1. Tune in. When someone is communicating with you in any way, they are trying to get your attention. Unless their timing is not good and you need to put off the interaction, stop what you’re doing and tune in to what they’re saying. This means not reading other material while you’re talking on the phone with them, not looking around at other things while talking in-person with them, not interrupting them, and minimizing or eliminating multitasking with other work. Maintain good eye (or ear) contact and be present in the moment.

Not only is tuning in a good practice in general, it also increases your efficiency by allowing you to focus intently on others’ issues, and it helps you make a better contribution or decision.

2. Put the Phone Away. Yes, that’s right; put it down when you’re communicating with someone. This is especially important when talking in-person or on the phone with someone. Why? It’s because the person with whom you are communicating will sense that you are doing something else (fiddling with your cell phone) that is distracting you from the conversation with them.

This is annoying to others, and you risk the possibility of completely disrupting your conversations with people. Think about it—have you ever tried talking to someone who was frequently checking their cell phone?

3. Do a Brain Dump. The idea here is to release from your mind those items about which you are thinking or worrying, such as projects, challenges to overcome, and routine day-to-day tasks. If you’re working on something, let it go for a while. If you do this, you will free up some mental space and allow yourself the capacity to focus on the person with whom you are communicating.

There are several ways to do a brain dump, though it only requires you to write your thoughts onto a piece of paper or your electronic device. Before you start a lengthy conversation, meeting, or phone chat with someone, extract those ideas and tasks that are swirling around in your mind and list them on the paper or device. Write a few words or short phrases describing each item, and when you finish conversing with the person, you’ll be able to quickly resume where you were prior to the conversation. This is an efficient way to handle communication, and it's practical and easy to implement at work or at home.

4. Be Patient and Involved. When interacting with others, it’s always a good idea to slow down, digest what they’re saying, and actively participate in the discussion as needed by giving your opinion or asking thoughtful questions.

Others may operate at a slower or faster pace than you, so you’ll have to adjust your style of communicating to fit the situation. If someone is painstakingly and slowly trying to explain something to you, relax and try to understand them at their pace; avoid letting your mind wander. Conversely, if someone is talking too fast for you to handle, either keep up with them (while doing your best to engage and understand them) or ask them to slow down so that you can better understand them.

Thank you for listening to me today, I appreciate your time, and I hope that my ideas will be useful to you at work and at home. Please bookmark my blog, and I’ll see you again in April.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

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