You’re zoned out. You’re distracted. You’re busy. You just don’t care. Regardless of the reason, sometimes you’re simply not ‘there’ when someone is talking to you. This can be especially true in the workplace, where talking is often more valued than listening. Studies show that after a brief distraction, people could only remember about 10% of what was said in a face-to-face conversation. That means you might be missing 90% of your employees’ personal needs and their valuable feedback on how you can improve. These tricks can help you catch that 90% so you stop zoning out and start listening in:
It may be hard not to finish that thought or jump to the point, but you need to resist the urge to cut in. While your insights are often valuable, they can be more hurtful than helpful if you interject them. Interrupting suggests you think you’re more important than the speaker or that you don’t really care what the other person has to say. A conversation is not a contest that needs to be won. If you have a thought, save it for a pause or until the story is finished.
Look for what’s not being said
When your employee avoids eye contact, folds her arms, or shifts around in his chair, these are nonverbal cues that can help you know the feelings behind what’s being said. According to a study by Mehrabian and Ferris, 55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone of voice, and 7% is the actual spoken words. Actively listen by paying attention to these cues so that you catch the whole communication and not just the 7%.
Show your interest
Listening well means not only picking up on nonverbal cues but giving them as well. Facing the speaker and maintaining eye contact show that you’re attentive and that listening is your priority. Stay focused, but don’t allow yourself to be too intense. Piercing eye contact can intimidate rather than invite, so it’s okay to relax and get comfortable. Giving verbal cues like “uh huh” or “hmmm” are also simple ways to show you’re following what’s being said.
Repeat back what you heard
To show you’re listening and truly want to understand, periodically paraphrase what you heard. Saying, “If I understand you correctly…” or “So you’re saying that…” will help verify that you’re receiving the right message and help signal to the speaker that you’re paying attention. To make this easier, eliminate distractions whenever possible. Put your phone on silent and go to a quiet room where passing people and office noises won’t pull your attention from what’s being said.
Keep an open mind
The fifth habit in Steve Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Covey explains that effective people listen empathetically, which means they allow themselves to be influenced by the speaker. No one wants to talk to a wall. Listen with the intent to understand and accept what’s being said. Maybe you do have room to improve. Maybe this point is valid. It’s okay to let down your defenses for a few minutes to genuinely consider what’s being said. Covey says that if you listen openly, the speaker will then reciprocate when it’s your turn to speak.
The columnist Doug Larson once said, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” Wise managers don’t just talk, they also listen. Showing your employees that you care may not come down to saying the right thing but rather choosing not to say anything and simply listening.