It’s not often that I write an article for business people telling them to do something. Typically, if someone tells me to do something, my urge is to do the opposite! Due to that fact, I avoid telling others to do something unless I feel very strongly about it. I feel very strongly about the importance of possessing excellent listening skills and have yet to meet someone who couldn’t improve theirs, however good they are (or think they are).
Because they are essential! Listening is the key to understanding, whether in conversation with a business partner, an opponent, a sales call, trying to close a deal, figure out why a staff person is unhappy or demotivated, or what’s really going on at your child’s school. It is all through your listening skills.
What isn’t being said?
It’s not just about what the person says, but what the person isn’t saying. There are clues in their word choices. Are they being evasive or direct? Are they hesitant? Having you used language that allows them to speak freely? What about the atmosphere?
If they are in front of you, what is their body language giving away? Is their verbal language saying one thing and their facial expression and/or stance saying another? Are their hands clenched or relaxed? Even over the phone we can detect a change in tone or energy – what does that say to you?
Tip 1 – Awareness
Being aware that you want to improve your skills is the first step, because as you enter a conversation you will ‘switch on’ your powers of listening. As your mind wanders, you will need to bring your attention back to the speaker. The more you do this, the less your mind will wander during conversations, when the ‘switch’ is on.
Tip 2 – Practise
Like everything in life, practise makes perfect (or close to). I’m currently learning how to play the djembe (African drum) and am very aware of how I’m improving in sound and speed by practising most days (my husband might not agree with this statement!). It’s the same with listening skills! You will have plenty of opportunities to improve your skills in the various spheres of your life. The more you practise, the better you will become at listening.
Practise everywhere and with everyone – it will soon become a habit.
Tip 3 – External noise
Noise distracts from your powers of listening – it will either make you focus more intensely to hear your conversational partner, or it will overwhelm you and make you focus on the external noise. If you cannot hear your partner due to external noise, move to a better environment. Your partner will be flattered that you want to hear what s/he has to say. If this is an important meeting, choose the venue carefully to avoid this mishap.
Tip 4 – Internal noise
But what about internal ‘noise’? What happens when you daydream, possibly because the conversation isn’t attention grabbing or because you suddenly recalled something you forgot to do. Bring your focus back if you missed an important sentence and apologise, if necessary. The more you practise listening to your conversational partner, the more often the internal noise will disappear.
You’ll know you’re listening when you mind is empty of internal ‘noise’ and your total focus is on the person with whom you are conversing
Tip 5 – Leadership skills
Going back to the ‘Why’ improving your listening skills are important – can you think of a single, democratic leader whom you admire who didn’t have excellent listening skills? How did you feel when you are conversing with someone important to you who was fully focused on what you were saying? You felt respected? Appreciated? Interesting? What if you made others feel that way? I would argue that keen listening skills are essential if you want to become a leader in any area of your life.
Tip 6 – Emotional Intelligence (EI) or Emotional Quotient (EQ)
Improve your EI/EQ by following tips and exercises. See this article, for example, for more information on How to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence.
By raising your self-awareness of how you are being in your life and in every facet of it, improving your EQ/EI and empathy, and above all, your listening skills, you will become more effective and powerful in making a difference in every aspect of your life and the lives of those dear to you.
If you would like a mentoring session on this topic or others, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call her directly on 020 8868 3163.