The Art of Effective Listening
We’ve been listening our whole lives.
Our parents laid down the law when we were kids. Teachers explained math, science, and history to us. Our managers instructed us on how to improve our skills. YouTube told us how to make a bomb soufleé.
So how can we be listening incorrectly?
In the business world, even the most seasoned professionals need to revisit basic skills. Do you sometimes find your mind wandering during a conversation? Have you ever cut someone off mid-sentence? Have you boldly texted your florist during a company-wide meeting?
If the answer is yes, then you, my friend, need to STOP what you’re doing and listen. Trust us, your company will thank you.
The Business Benefits of Effective Listening
1. Amplifies Influence
Listening has been linked to influence. A study of 250 MBA students published in the Journal of Research in Personality discovered that “listening had a positive effect on influence beyond the impact of verbal expression” and that “those who listen well may reap both informational and relational benefits that make them more influential.”
2. Uncovers common ground
We have more in common with co-workers than we think. Listening, encouraging conversation, and sharing allows us to learn more about them—and support conversations in a meaningful manner. Shared interests build stronger bonds.
3. Promotes respect, positivity, and trust
A sense of camaraderie makes for a better work environment. You get more done. You feel better. There is less toxicity and more collaboration. When you effectively listen rather than dismiss ideas immediately, you signal respect for your co-workers—nurturing positivity and your position as someone who supports their viewpoint.
Listening helps to:
- Reduce conflicts
- Enable good decisions
- Unearth new opportunities or under-the-radar challenges
- Create a culture of open dialogue
How to Improve Listening Skills
1. Jettison distractions
How many times has someone asked you a question you already answered? Clearly, they weren’t listening. And that ’s annoying. They’re basically telling you: “This conversation isn’t important.”
Undivided attention goes a long way. It gives you the freedom to focus on a single task and signals respect to those with you. Your brain can take in information and process it fully.
So, shut the laptop. Hide the phone. And avoid multitasking.
2. Don’t listen just so you can tear someone down
Don’t treat listening as a combative activity. You’re not going into the Thunderdome. This isn’t Helm’s Deep. You aren’t holding a Hattori Hanzo and facing a deadly schoolgirl wielding a flail.
Avoid using the time when you’re not talking as a chance to build rebuttals and automatically point out errors. If you’re irritated from something that happened earlier, try not to let that seep through via body language or your words.
3. Speak wisely
A study of 3,000+ people found that the idea of “active listening” isn’t quite as effective as you think it is.
Active listening consists of being quiet, nodding or mumbling “uh huh” once in a while, and then regurgitating the points back at the person who just made them.
That shows you’re listening, right?
By definition, yes, but that doesn’t make you an effective listener.
As the study says: “Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks.”
Instead, pursue contributions that show you understand the conversation and want to explore the ideas further. When a co-worker proposes a plan to cut down the number of open support tickets, consider questions that allow them to further illustrate their plan. Can they elaborate on their overall goal? How will it affect the budget? Do they anticipate challenges when rolling it out?
Even if you ultimately don’t agree with the plan, you’ve had an exchange that brings value to everyone involved.
4. Embrace the pause.
Listening is the perfect opportunity to hit your internal pause button. We all have habits that are hard to identify and break when we’re in the moment. Do you often interrupt or talk over others? Try to stifle that urge by pausing and asking yourself, “Is there a critical need for that now?”
Maybe you had a knee-jerk reaction to something someone proposed. Instead of immediately announcing that reaction and stamping down conversation, hit pause. Take time to listen, process, and analyze your reaction. Now, do you still find that it’s valid or on point?
No matter what your habits are, the pause button will be your new best friend.
Effective listening is a skill in need of constant attention and fine-tuning—but the payback is well worth it.