How to Be An Active Listener
I was recently at a networking event and came away frustrated and upset. As I reflected on the evening, I thought about how many people are lacking core listening skills. Despite talking to many people, I left not ever feeling heard. In the majority of conversations, people are waiting for the opportunity to talk versus actually listening to what the other person is saying. There is the big difference between being an active listener and just waiting for a chance to speak.
Hear me out. Before you think, this doesn’t relate to me, take a moment to dissect the last conversation you had. When the other person finished speaking, did you reflect on what they said, ask a follow up question or just jump in and give your opinion?
Knowing that active listening is an area many of us struggle with (including me), here are some tips to help you be more engaged in your next conversation.
Know your audience
Who is it that you are speaking with (or in the case of a presentation, speaking to)? How do they receive and process information? Even if you have never met the person before, by listening to what they are saying, and how they share information, you’ll know if they relate better to analytical information or stories (or a combination of both). This simple step will help you format your end of the conversation to ensure what you’re saying resonates. This is particularly important when answering questions at a meeting or after a presentation.
Closed versus open questions
When answering questions, listen closely to the question being asked. Does it require a yes or no response, or a more detailed explanation. The best way to frustrate your audience is to talk on and on when a yes or no was all they were looking for in a response. If you feel the need to expand, try this. The short answer is yes, but let me explain why. Now keep your explanation short, recognizing a lengthy answer may not be received well (and they are internally rolling their eyes).
Watch body language
Since 80% of communications is non-verbal, we give a lot away with our body language. The problem is few too people pay attention and pick up the cues their audience is sending. As your presenting or talking, keep a close eye on other person’s or audience’s body language. Are they leaning in, smiling or maintaining eye contact? Great – they are engaged. If they start leaning back in their chairs, looking at the phone or generally avoiding eye contact, it’s time to wrap up what you’re saying. Observing body language is a great way to determine if you need to change your tone, approach or just finish the conversation.
Your body language is just as important as the other person’s. Even if you are struggling with what the person is saying or asking, stay present. Look them in the eye, nod your head, and repeat back what they said (to ensure your mind doesn’t wander and you don’t zone out). And most importantly – turn off your phone!! Looking at your phone or having it by your side sends a clear message that the person in-front of you is not important and you are not fully present.
I encourage you to test out at least one of these tips in your next three conversations – whether it is with a peer or family member or presenting in-front of a group. How does it change your engagement with your audience? Did it improve the quality of the conversation? Did you go from listening for an opportunity to speak or listening to truly hear what the other person was saying?