03 Oct Challenges to Effective Listening and What to Do About It!
Have you ever had a conversation with someone only to realize you are both talking about two different things or have different takeaways from the conversation? People often have trouble listening effectively. Sometimes, we’re simply distracted working on a project when someone pops in the office for a quick chat. Maybe you’re lost in thought trying to solve a tough problem. Other times, we’re just not that interested in the conversation. It happens. But active listening is a valuable skill that can help improve communication, help us be more productive, and build stronger relationships.
Life is full of distractions. The constant notifications on our smartphones, the background noise of the office, or visual distractions such as machinery or “people” traffic in the halls or outside windows. These make it difficult to focus on what someone is saying. You have to make a conscious effort to minimize distractions. Put away your phone or better – try turning it off (it does have an “off/on” function!). You can close irrelevant tabs or programs on your computer to focus on the zoom meeting. And find a quiet space to listen to the person you’re meeting with, if possible.
To show the speaker that you are fully engaged in the conversation, you want to maintain eye contact (not in a creepy way). On zoom or teams this can be tricky. But as much as you can, look to the camera and use the speaker view option when possible. Eye contact signals that you are focused on the speaker and interested in what they are saying. However, be mindful of cultural differences in eye contact norms. Remember that nonverbal cues speak volumes. You can nod appropriately and smile indicate to the person you’re speaking with that you are indeed listening.
Anyone can be preoccupied with their own thoughts, concerns, or judgments, which can interfere with their ability to fully engage in a conversation. But presumptions about someone’s intentions, or stereotypes about the speaker can really mess with one’s ability to listen objectively without them even realizing it. So, how to combat this? You must be empathetic. And it’s hard for some people. Try to see the situation from their point of view. Why are they bringing you this topic or subject? When you understand their perspective, empathize with their emotions and experiences, it makes the conversation much more meaningful. But you, the listener, must suspend your judgment of that person. Listen without forming opinions until you have a complete understanding of the speaker’s perspective.
A good way to listen intentionally is to ask open-ended questions to learn more about why they are sharing or what they need from you. Encourage them to elaborate and share more by asking something as simply as, “Tell me more about that.” You can also summarize what the person you’re meeting with has said to show that you’re actively processing the information and to clarify any potential misunderstandings. You can say, “So, you’re saying …”
Some individuals are just naturally impatient. They hurry through a conversation or offer solutions before fully understanding the issue. But listening is a “closed mouth” activity. If you know you’re not a patient person, you must resist the urge to interrupt or offer solutions prematurely. Allow the person to express themselves fully before responding. And yes, this is hard. But there’s a reason the expression goes, “Patience is a virtue.” We need time to gather our thoughts and not foist them upon others while they are still expressing their origin thought. Allow for pauses in the conversation without rushing to fill them and be stay present in the moment. This will help prevent your mind from wandering during conversations. Business Results helps you measure your listening and communication abilities through assessments and address issues with training and consulting that allow employees, managers, and leadership teams to more effectively collaborate and drive their business goals.
One final note: practice, practice, practice. Active listening is a skill that can be developed over time. Practice it in various settings to become a more effective listener.
Remember that active listening is not only about hearing words but also about understanding the underlying message, emotions, and intentions of the speaker. By consistently practicing these tips, you can become a better active listener and enhance your communication skills.