One of my coaching clients, this past week, proclaimed proudly she is now a more active listener.
“What did you say?” I replied. “I wasn’t listening.”
No, just kidding. I heard her very clearly, I promise. But rather than simply taking her word on this declaration, I asked her to explain why she believed it was true. What behaviour modifications had she made? Remember, folks, unlike what former US president Donald Trump hilariously contended had declassified all those documents seized from Mar-a-Lago, simply thinking about something, doesn’t make it happen. We must take action.
So, I asked Sandra for details. She stated that for the first time in nearly three years, she finally deliberately closed open windows on her laptop and set her phone out of reach (and out of temptation) when she attended virtual meetings.
“I used to think I could multi-task and still pay attention to what was being said,” she said. “But now I realise I was only partially listening. It takes dedication and effort.”
WHY BECOME AN ACTIVE LISTENER?
Yes, it most certainly does. And even if you are one of the more stubborn types reassuring yourself right now, that you really can successfully multi-task and listen attentively at the same time, let me politely point out that your audience doesn’t know that. All they can see is that you’re doing something other than giving them your full attention. Not a relationship enricher.
And that’s just one of the many reasons why it’s important to listen actively. Here are three more.
- ACTIVE LISTENING IMPROVES RETENTION
Whether a student or a business executive, you can’t remember what you didn’t listen to in the first place. After a presentation or a lecture, someone may be able to send you a recap or the slide deck to review later, but a lively team discussion or important one on one conversation, calls for focused attention in real time.
- ACTIVE LISTENING IMPROVES UNDERSTANDING
How can you possibly learn the other person’s perspective and views on the matter, if you are not truly listening? You can’t.
- ACTIVE LISTENING IMPROVES APPRECIATION
When someone feels they are being heard, they feel more valued and cared about. With employee engagement numbers on the decline in so many companies, improving listening by leaders is a must.
Now that you’re reminded of some of the many benefits of becoming an active listener, let me go over a few of the important actions (not mere thoughts) you can take to prevent yourself from zoning out or jumping in.
HOW TO BECOME AN ACTIVE LISTENER
- ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS
We already covered closing extra browsers and moving your phone, but what else is distracting you? If you’re at home, can you get to a quiet room without little kids, a spouse or a pet wandering in? If you’re back in the office, do you face a window with busy activity going on outside? Consider what may pull you away from your audience and put it away before you begin your conversation.
- STOP INTERRUPTING
Or at least aim to interrupt fewer times. Although some overlap occurs in the natural cadence of many conversations – especially now in the virtual meeting world – focusing on what the person is saying is more important than being over eager to offer advice or comment. If you do hear yourself crossing over the other person, do not say, “Sorry to cross over you,” and keep on speaking. Instead, apologise and then add, “please, continue your thought.” That will help you train to refrain.
- APPLAUSE A PAUSE
One effective way to limit interruptions, is to allow for a second or two of silence to fill the room. It may seem like an eternity, but your audience will respect you for it and you will get a chance to gather your thoughts so you can respond and not merely react.
- LISTEN TO WHAT’S NOT BEING SAID
In addition to the spoken words, active listening also requires you to pay attention non-verbal cues. What is the person’s general tone of voice? Are they angry? Afraid? Unsure? What about their body language? How is their posture? The expression on their face?
So, after considering all this, do you still think you’re a good listener? It might be time to think about it again. Then do some things deliberately to make it so. Change your actions, change your thoughts.
TIP OF THE COMMUNICATOR HAT –
My very heart-felt tip goes to one of my incredible clients, a team leader based in Russia. While she is not under fire like those poor people living in Ukraine, Anna is under increasing pressure from the ongoing economic sanctions and now by the recent threat of conscription leveled by President Putin. This past weekend, to avoid that threat, her husband fled the country. Anna stayed behind to take care of their infant son, Leo, and to maintain her role in supporting her global colleagues as we created a new, women in leadership development program. The kick-off to this virtual series was this past Wednesday. Anna was our first presenter. Talk about commitment to leadership communications and embodiment.