With all the talk about honing our communication skills, we rarely hear about improving our listening skills. Yet those are just as important.
People who listen carefully make fewer mistakes. Customer orders are handled correctly the first time, eliminating the costs involved with fixing problems, reshipping merchandise, and issuing refunds or credits.
Your operations run more efficiently as well. Employees fulfill their duties without constantly asking for clarification. An added benefit is that there is less chance for misunderstanding, which in these litigious times can be costly.
These tips will help make you and your staff better listeners.
Complete existing tasks before addressing a question. When approached, politely say, “Let me finish this first.” Trying to do two things at once shortchanges both.
Eliminate distractions. Loud radios, chatty co-workers, and ringing phones make it difficult to concentrate on the speaker’s comments. Find a quieter room to continue your conversation, if need be.
When working from home, consider the distractors there: barking dogs, road construction, landscapers at work. Make your room as quiet as possible for those phone calls, teleconferences and video conferences.
Concentrate on the speaker. Lean toward the person slightly and maintain eye contact. Turning one ear toward the speaker can help, as well.
Keep your mouth shut. We have a nasty habit of interrupting others. That is rude. Also, in doing so we tend to arrive at the wrong conclusion. Wait until the person finishes speaking before formulating and delivering your reply.
Take notes. Not only does this help prevent misunderstandings and errors, it shows that you are paying attention. While taking notes you are less likely to open your mouth, as discussed above.
Listen between the lines. A grumpy or surly attitude may not be caused by anything you’ve said or done. The person may be under duress due to personal or professional problems.
Gently probe for the underlying cause and take that into consideration.
Recognize your biases. Perhaps the person has a strong accent, speaks slowly, is from another culture, or is dressed oddly. Any of these, and more, can cause us to develop opinions about the speaker and get in the way of good listening.
Becoming a good listener does not require a lot of work. Focus on what the speaker is saying, and ignore competing noises and other distractions. You will be rewarded with a more beneficial conversation.
What has been your experience? Do you sometimes meet (or work with) people who just don’t seem to be paying attention? Feel free to comment below. Also, if you found this column valuable, please share it with others. To contact me, send an email.