1. Demonstrate attentiveness.
I recently coached a senior vice president of sales who was rated by his employees and peers as a 'very poor listener.' He was mystified by the feedback because he really did hear and understand what others said to him. The problem? He didn't
show others he was listening. His ears may have been engaged, but his eyes, body, and attention were elsewhere. When interacting with others, don't multitask. Stop what you're doing. Turn your body toward the speaker. Face them fully with your shoulders squared and toes pointed toward them. Maintain effective eye contact. Practice good posture, lean forward, and avoid crossing your arms. Nod your head from time to time to indicate understanding, and take notes if appropriate. Make sure your body physically demonstrates attentiveness. This is the only way the other person can
see that you're fully present and actively listening.
2. Be open-minded.
Can active listening yield bottom line results for a company?
In 1993, the global IT giant IBM was on the brink of bankruptcy. Lou Gerstner took over as CEO, and by 2001 the share price of IBM shot up by 800%. A key reason? Gerstner writes, "For the first month, I listened, and I tried very hard not to draw conclusions." His book,
Who Said Elephants Can't Dance? plus numerous analysts affirm, "IBM survived by listening to clients." As a leader and a listener, it's critical to suspend assumptions, expectations, and prejudices. Allow others to express their thoughts and feelings without passing judgment. A fundamental cause of failure in interpersonal communication occurs when people want to prove themselves right and the other person wrong, or when 'listening' is simply waiting your turn to speak. First, seek to truly understand the other person's meaning. Then, seek to be understood.
3. Practice patience.
Isaac Newton in his 1687 book Principia wrote, "If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent." If 'patient attention' resulted in the law of universal gravitation, surely it can help us communicate more effectively. Avoid interrupting others and refrain from completing their sentences. Wait for the speaker to complete his or her thoughts before adding yours. Don't rush to a response, solution, or conclusion. There are valuable discoveries to be made when you remain 'SILENT' and 'LISTEN'. Patient active listening will help you mine them.
4. Verify your perceptions.
Check with the speaker to be sure you heard the intended message. Say, "It sounds like you're saying. . .Do I understand you correctly?" Show interest and concern by
probing a bit deeper. Ask, "Can you please say more about. . ." or "Could you help me understand what you mean when you say. . ." Occasionally restate the speaker's main points, "Sue, so far, I believe you're recommending that we. . .Is that accurate?" In addition to confirming the verbal message, you may also want to verify the nonverbal messages you perceive. For example, if you notice body language or voice tone cues that indicate certain emotions the speaker may be feeling, you may honor those feelings by saying, "Chris, I sense that you may be frustrated. How do feel about this change in policy?" Verification ensures that you've accurately heard and understood the speaker's intended message.
If you would like to learn more about active listening and effective communication & presentation skills, please read my book
Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results (available in Hardcover, Kindle, and Audio).
Feel free to contact me directly to schedule an in-house corporate training event for your team. I would be honored to support your presentation and communication success.