Part of your job at work is to listen, which sounds easier than it is. With so much emphasis on fulfilling action items, and on productivity overall, the art of listening well is increasingly undervalued in the modern American workplace.
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Listening is important, but there is more to it than is immediately obvious. Becoming a better listener is sure to improve communication, relationships, and problem-solving practices around the office, and it will improve your effectiveness and build trust with your coworkers.
Here are a few suggestions.
1. Listening means making others feel heard.
Your primary job as a listener is not simply to hear. Listening entails more than absorbing – it means making others feel heard. This should be your goal, and focusing on the outcome, the response, the feeling you’re looking to inspire in others, will help you connect in a richer way. Your goal is not simply to hear, it is to make the other person feel heard.
You’re not trying to stare the person down, but gazing over their shoulder, out the window – or worst of all, at your phone – will not make the other person feel heard. Look at the person you’re speaking with. Smile. Nod. Show compassion with your eyes and your facial expressions. Make the other person feel as though they have your full attention and that you have all the time in the world for this conversation.
3. Listening requires action.
Most people conceive of listening as a passive action, but good listeners know it is not. You have to engage with the conversations and actively participate in the dialogue, in order to make someone feel heard. You’re going to be quiet a lot during this conversation, maybe 80 percent of the time, but you should also participate. Ask questions to get more information, relate to how the person feels through sharing a similar story of your own, or offer some insights that the other person might find helpful. The important thing is to get involved. The person you’re speaking with won’t feel heard if you don’t engage and participate.
4. Don’t interrupt.
Even if you have a question that would clarify the conversation for you, don’t interrupt. Even if you have something you feel is very important that you’d like to interject, do not interrupt. Just don’t do it. The other person is not going to feel heard if you cut them off. Wait until they’ve finished expressing their full thought to participate.
5. Don’t tell them not to worry.
When someone is upset about something, telling them to stop will not help. If simply hearing “don’t worry!” was going to be enough, you probably wouldn’t be having the conversation in the first place. Similarly, saying something like, “Oh, that’s silly. You shouldn’t feel that way,” is equally unhelpful. Be compassionate. Put yourself in this person’s shoes and try to help them work their way out of their predicament. Few problems in life can be flipped like a switch.
Some folks think that because they are quiet, they are good listeners, but not talking is never the key to good communication. Similarly, asking a million questions and offering whirlwinds of advice won’t do it either. A good listener is engaged, focused, and compassionate. They do not interrupt, but instead participate with empathy and understanding. Ultimately, they make others feel heard.
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