We all know how to listen. Or do we? Many of us have some room for improvement when it comes to really listening.
Have you ever been explaining or discussing something with another person, only for them to reply with ‘Sorry, what was that?’, or worse, not respond at all? Chances are they weren’t listening properly. The reality is, it’s easy to hear what someone is saying but listening to what they say is a skill.
The ability to communicate effectively is a highly sought-after skill at all levels. Being a good listener gives you the ability to solve problems, build relationships, and learn more efficiently. At work, listening also makes you a better leader and more productive overall. Listening also shows you are displaying a genuine interest in the topic. But it’s more than politeness. Listening is one of the most effective tools for communication.
There are different types of listening that we use daily. Casually listening to music at home isn’t the same as listening to an important presentation at work. Your listening style will change depending on the situation and who you’re with. Part of improving your listening skills is identifying when and where each type is appropriate. In the workplace, you’re most likely to see listening skills used in three different ways:
Evaluative listening – Listening in this way is used when making decisions. Absorbing key facts and figures is a key element of this. It is effective when assessing a situation that requires an informed decision. It is a form of critical listening which involves analysing the information in detail and evaluating the outcome.
Perceptive listening – Perceptive listening is used when people want to take in small bits of information that are relevant to them. People will often take notes whilst listening in this way, so they can go back over the information more thoroughly later. You may experience this during a presentation, meeting, or group project.
Comprehensive listening – As the name suggests, this listening style is deeper than perceptive listening which involves understanding the information in detail. There can be language and skills barriers that prevent comprehensive listening. However, this can usually be resolved by engaging in conversation and asking further questions to ensure you fully understand the information.
Tips to improve your listening
We’re surrounded by distractions. Phones, emails, laptops, other people. They all play a part in trying to steal our attention away. Avoid the temptation to check your emails or look at your phone and give the speaker your full attention.
Visual and audible triggers are a simple way to show you’re listening. Data gathered by the Harvard Business Review suggests that those who are considered better listeners engage with conversation by “letting others know they’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds”.
Face the speaker
Face the speaker and maintain eye contact so you can absorb the information and listen to what they have to say. Don’t talk over a computer screen or face away from them. Give them your full attention by looking at them directly.
Give them the floor
This isn’t usually done intentionally, but don’t shift the focus over to you. Make sure the speaker knows you are engaged without interrupting or being over-enthusiastic. If you’re waiting for them to finish and planning what you’re going to say whilst they’re speaking, you’re not fully focused on what they’re saying.