We all like to think we are good listeners, but we’re not. Think about it: When was the last time you zoned out on someone talking about their workday? It was probably recently.
Being a good listener is a social skill that is very useful in a professional setting. Paying attention to what your boss is saying can help you gain insight on goals, responsibilities or projects. Actively listening to co-workers can help you build stronger relationships with them.
Obstacles to listening
Bad listening habits don’t just happen by accident. They can usually be attributed to a short attention span, inability to hear, stress or a personal bias against the speaker.
If one or more of these obstacles is affecting your ability to pay attention, you must try to address them. For instance, you could make sure your important conversations are held in a place when background noise is not disrupting your capacity to hear what is said. Getting over biases or stress that might be getting in the way is difficult but being conscious of these obstacles is a solid start.
Active listening habits
Active listening isn’t just about getting over bad habits or biases. It’s also about developing good listening skills. Even people who are excellent listeners occasionally do things that lead to a lapse in attention.
If the conversation is held in person, you must maintain eye contact. When you look another person in the eye, it causes your ears to follow. Eye contact also shows to the speaker that you are focusing on what they are saying.
It’s also important not to interrupt the person speaking. Hold on to your concerns and comments until the other person stops talking and you can absorb her or his words.
Fidgeting is another bad listening habit that takes your attention away from the speaker. It can also make you appear bored. Instead of fidgeting, try nodding your head to indicates that you are taking in what the speaker is saying.
Paying attention to non-verbal cues is another part of active listening. Being attentive to what the speaker says with their body is just as essential as being mindful of their words. Non-verbal cues like facial expressions and posture can provide added context to what someone is saying. For instance, if someone is folding their arms, they are feeling defensive and possible saying something they think you don’t want to hear. Leaning in toward the person speaking helps with engagement and uses your own body language to express interest.
Finally, it’s important to go over directions and ask questions where appropriate. As soon as the other person has finished talking, go over anything you are unclear on or confirm details that seem essential to the conversation.
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