Listening may be one of the most important skills you can have when it comes to leadership and running a business.
There are many reasons we listen. We listen to; learn, stay informed, understand, gain information, acquire knowledge, and obtain wisdom.
While there are many benefits to great listening, sadly most of us are in fact terrible at it. Research suggests that we remember only 25 to 50 percent of what we hear.
With that being said, learning to be a good listener has significant benefits for business leaders. It helps you build critical relationships with clients, bond with customers, and engage with employees.
In turn, this builds trust and confidence. That trust encourages loyalty, and that confidence motivates productivity. Both of these things leads to more business and more profitability.
Now, here are seven ways you can become a better listener:
1. Keep your mind clear.
When you listen, actually listen! Clear your mind; stop thinking of your beliefs and positions and what you’re going to say next. Be ready to truly hear what the other person is saying so you can benefit from their thoughts, opinions, and ideas. After you hear what they say, then think about what you will say.
2. Context is key.
To truly listen, you must pay attention to what is being said beneath the words. Listen for the essence of what is being said. Look beyond the surface. Make an effort to hear the words that the other person is saying, and, more importantly, to understand the complete message that is being conveyed. Give your full, undivided attention to the speaker at every level. Aim to understand the context of the words, instead of just the words themselves.
3. Don’t get distracted.
Resist the natural urge to be distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Don’t let your mind wander so that you lose focus. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.
4. Stay open.
A very important part of listening is the ability to set aside one’s own prejudices in order to step into the shoes of another. Learn to silence your personal thoughts and opinions in such a way that you can address the needs of other people directly. Practice showing empathy.
5. Use your body.
Body language isn’t only important when speaking, but also when listening. Look directly at the speaker, lean in, and be interested. Listen and learn. Watch your body language and watch the body language of the person speaking. Use smiles, nods, and gestures to signal your engagement and connection.
6. Don’t interrupt.
Resist the urge to interrupt; it frustrates the speaker and derails the point being made. Allow the speaker to finish his or her thought before jumping in to ask questions. Don’t interrupt with counter arguments or to add your own ideas. When you listen, you listen; when you speak, you speak. There is a time for everything.
When the speaker has finished talking and it’s your turn to speak, be open, inquisitive, and honest with your response. Assert your opinions, ask the right questions, and do it all with great respect. Treat the other person as you would want to be treated.
Listening is an acquired skill. It takes a lot of determination and concentration. But if done right, it will help you become a better communicator and develop stronger relationships–important elements of success in any field. For leaders, listening is a central competence for success. For business, listening is a competitive advantage.