There is an article in yesterday’s New York Times on how to improve your listening skills. While this may seem superfluous — you’re either listening or you aren’t — the tips are actually quite smart.
According to Gretchen Neels, a workplace consultant, most people are not cognizant of when they are not listening or of whether they are giving the impression to others that they are not listening. Think about it this way: How many conversations have you been in that felt more like races to speak next as opposed to polite interactions. People commonly talk over one another, and I know that one of my biggest problems in my communications is a tendency to interrupt.
According to Neels, if you can master listening, you are more likely to get things done right the first time, to build stronger and more secure relationships, and to notice the nuances of speech.
Here are the six tips (and my comments) that Neels provided for improved listening skills:
- Maintain good eye contact.Obviously. Every article you ever read on communication (including many of my blogs) will tell you this. Moving on…
- Sit or stand still without fidgeting. While this is also a bit obvious, it’s something that a lot of people don’t think about enough. If your body seems unfocused and, literally and figuratively, all over the place, it’s a reasonable reaction to assume that that is the state of your mind as well.
- Try nodding your head or leaning in toward the speaker, both of which indicate to the speaker that you are listening, and also help you to stay engaged. Again, Neels isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but these are important tips for effective and supportive body language.
- In a face-to-face or one-on-one situation, try “mirroring,” which means taking on the gestures of the speaker. If you are across form someone who leans her head to the right, lean your head to the left. Though this sounds a bit odd — or even demeaning? mocking? — this move will sync you with your companion. Neels says that those who are close, intimate, or comfortable together naturally do this.
- Repeat or recap the information that you are hearing. Especially if the conversation is over the phone. This is just smart. You want to be sure that you’ve grabbed the most important bits. Repetition of this nature is crucial for both clarification and retention.
- Do not interrupt! It will undermine everything that you are trying to accomplish. If you fear you will lose a thought, carry a pad and paper and make a note so that you can come back to it. Interrupting conveys the impression that you are not listening. Okay, okay, point taken. I’ll try harder. Thanks Gretchen!