How many times has this happened? You are out to dinner with a group of people and some of them are texting on their phones while somebody else is talking. It happens all the time in social settings, but it happens in business as well. In today’s busy work environment, most of us have a hard time actively listening because we are busy multitasking. But listening skills are essential in servicing clients as well as working with internal partners.
Listening is defined as the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. Listening is not the same thing as hearing. Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear, whereas listening requires actual focus. When you listen, you are paying attention not only to the story, but how it’s being told, the use of tone and the speaker’s body language. Mastering the art of listening means being aware of both verbal and nonverbal cues. Your ability to listen effectively depends on the degree to which you perceive and understand these verbal and sensory cues.
When discussing a request with a client, how can you provide the appropriate deliverables without fully understanding what they are communicating? A client can make a single request, but if you just take it at face value, you may be missing out on an opportunity to uncover their true needs. By using techniques such as active listening and reflective listening, you can get to the root of what the client is really requesting.
Active listening happens through deliberate focus. An individual pays close attention to both verbal and nonverbal messaging and attempts to comprehend the meaning of words spoken by another in a conversation. That includes asking clarifying questions to make sure you understand what is being said as well as interjecting small, appropriate commentary as needed. Active listening will help you understand your client’s real message, which is often more than the mere facts of the conversation.
Reflective listening is a technique used with active listening in which you paraphrase or translate what the person said. Essentially you “reflect back” what you think you heard. This is a good technique for ensuring that there is clear understanding. Reflective listening flushes out any potential misunderstandings in communication.
Using these techniques, you can build relationships with your internal partners as well. Active listening shows your fellow co-workers that you are paying attention to them and what they are saying is important to you. In an account management role, your relationship with your internal partners is essential to your client’s success. If you assert your own position into every opening in a conversation, you will eliminate many of the potential benefits of listening. In particular, people you are talking with will not feel respected by you, their thinking and brainstorming will be inhibited and they may even withhold important information out of caution.
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So how can we listen actively? Here are some principles of effective listening:
Hard as it might be, do not interrupt, talk over or finish a speaker’s sentence. Pay attention, concentrate on not talking and just listen. This means looking directly at the speaker and not thinking about your reply while they are talking. Once they are done talking, you may then ask clarifying questions to ensure that you received the message correctly.
Put the speaker at ease.
Good listeners know how to put their speakers at ease. They do this by using their body language to affirm that they are listening and interested. This includes nods or gestures that encourage them to continue, as well as smiles, warm facial expressions and small comments like “yes” and “uh-huh.”
Focus 100 percent on the person speaking. Do not look at your phone, shuffle papers, doodle, etc. These activities send a message that you are bored. Also, you may miss important verbal and nonverbal cues.
Watch for tone and nonverbal communication.
Words alone don’t convey the entire message. People use tone of voice and body language to deliver a message. Paying attention to these things can help you get a whole picture, not just isolated bits and pieces of a message.
Respect the speaker’s feelings.
Understand where they are coming from and validate their viewpoint. Be candid, open and honest in your responses and questions, but do it in a respectful way.
Don’t let the speaker’s personal style distract you from the content of what they are saying. Whether it’s a different accent or someone speaking softly or very quickly, look beyond those things to focus on what they are trying to tell you.
It takes a lot of concentration and determination to master the art of listening. But the more you practice the principles of effective listening, the better you will get. The goal is to understand the full message that the other person is trying to convey. By using techniques such as active listening and reflective listening, you can dig deeper into what your client is trying to accomplish, improving your account management skills and providing deliverables that align. Additionally, these skills help develop relationships and improve workplace productivity by promoting an environment where all employees feel heard. When people truly feel that others are listening to them, that’s when creativity thrives and strong relationships are built.