How to Be A Good Listener
By Joe Issid
Do you feel like your friends, family and coworkers have a hard time putting down their smartphones? Are you constantly having to compete for their attention? If so, you may be observing what research has started to confirm: technology is leading to the shortening of our attention spans. The end result is that we are surrounded by people who are addicted to portable technology and are becoming less and less present during face-to-face interactions. To wit, during your next meeting at work, look around the room and see how many people are staring into their smartphone when they should otherwise be paying attention to what is happening right in front of their faces. Also, take note of how many people have placed their smartphones on the table in front of them, waiting for the next chime to take them away from the current conversation. And, chances are, you are one of those people. While current research has also shown that humans are becoming better multi-taskers, you simply can’t expect people to devote their full attention to two things at the same time. As a result, we are collectively losing our ability to listen effectively and to absorb our immediate surroundings as well as we used to.
So, in an attempt to break out of these habits, here are some tips that will allow you to become a better listener.
Don’t blame tech
Smartphones are a symptom of a growing issue but not the root cause of the decline in attention spans. People are becoming worse at listening in the office because we have adopted a culture of immediate response. Simply put, companies have come to expect employees to respond to emails within minutes and to be accessible virtually all the time. With this subliminal pressure on us 24/7, we carve out time to work when we should otherwise be engaged in something else. And singling out smartphones is an easy approach as it doesn’t address the core issue at hand.
Take charge of your schedule
To change how we listen at work means having to change how we work. Too many people spend too much of their time sitting in meetings that are not relevant to their work. As such, it is particularly easy to tune out when it does not relate to you. Think about all the long and boring meetings you attend that do not provide an additive value to you or your team. If you find yourself spending too much time in these types of irrelevant meetings, you need to do something to change. Your days need to be spent working on matters that are relevant to you and your objectives. If you are not focused on the right things, you will naturally lose your ability to pay attention to the things that do matter. To wit, you are losing your ability to listen properly because your days are filled with things that you do not need to listen to.
Don’t take notes
I often get chastised at work because I rarely take notes during meetings. But I fully credit this practice for my ability to listen and understand what is being asked of me. Personally, I find that taking notes distracts me from engaging with people and trying to make sure I fully understand what is being asked of me. Also, I spend less time asking people to repeat themselves for the sake of my note-taking. This approach has allowed me to remain focused on what is happening in front of me and to ensure that I am fully present. If necessary, I take note of very specific technical details that need to be captured and then perform a more complete write-up following the meeting.
The best way to help improve your listening skills is to ask questions. This will certainly take time to develop as most people are somewhat reluctant to interrupt – especially in the middle of a crowded meeting. But asking questions is the best way to ensure that you are receiving the information correctly and it is certainly the best way of ensuring that you will remember what is being discussed. Much like dating, asking questions is the best way to learn about something (or someone) that is new to you.
One of the best ways to become an effective listener is to be receptive to feedback – whether it is solicited or not and whether it is positive or not. Let’s face it, many of us may not be receptive to feedback as it may, historically, have been associated with some form of consequence. However, we shouldn’t continue to perceive feedback in such a negative way.
If you learn to accept feedback in a constructive and positive manner, it will help you adapt and improve all measures of your work – and personal – life.