4 Practical Techniques for Effective Listening

Woman with coffee cup, listening.

Summary:

With communication being one of the most commonly listed problems in organizations, here are 4 easy solutions that you can implement today.


Virtually every client over the past 25 years has listed “communication” as one of their organization’s key shortcomings. So why is this issue so pervasive? Are not enough people talking? Are not enough emails being sent? Not at all.


The biggest barrier to communication is that we as a species do a really poor job of listening.

We tend to engage in competitive monologues, where, instead of listening to understand the other person’s point of view, we are thinking about our response and waiting patiently (or not so patiently) for the other person to finish so we can tell them what we think. We listen to our own thoughts instead of paying attention to the other person.


Even if you are a good listener, chances are you could improve. I rarely meet anyone who could not be a better listener, myself included (just ask my wife!) Try these four techniques, and see if your communication and collaboration improve.

1) When gathering information, ask open ended questions.


Most of the time, when we ask a question, we’re simply inviting the other person to vote on our opinion. Statements like, “Don’t you think we should hire that new vendor?” or “Do you think our strategy is sound?” bias the other person and shut down the opportunity for dialogue.


Instead, try suspending your opinion for a moment, by asking truly open-ended questions like these:


“What do you think about that new vendor?”
“How effective do you think our strategy will be?”

2) Once you have asked an open ended question, wait.


Count to 20. Repeat the question in your head. Do anything but talk, to let the person process your question.


If a question is worth asking, it’s worth waiting for the answer. During the uncomfortable silence between asking and answering a question, we often fill the gap with multiple choice options, jokes or meaningless additional words. Especially if you’ve asked a question the other person hasn’t thought about before or that requires a creative response, it’s crucial to patiently wait for an answer.


3) While listening, notice that you have an opinion. 


By the time we hear the first sentence or half sentence of the other person’s response, we often begin formulating our next response. By listening to our own thoughts, we block out what the other person is saying. This is not only disrespectful, but it also denies us the other person’s insight.


Instead, try noticing when you are listening to your own thoughts instead of the other person, then let the voice in your head repeat every word the other person has said. That way, you are more likely to absorb and confirm what you have heard.


4) Practice reflective listening.


Once you have listened, repeat the other person’s words back to them to confirm that you’ve received what they intended to tell you. A statement like, “Here’s what I heard you say,” accomplishes three things: It sends the other person a signal that you’ve been listening. It builds the relationship by suggesting that you are interested in the other person and their thoughts. It confirms that you did or did not understand what they meant, and invites clarification.

Would you like to be a better listener?

We're listening.

PHOENIX SUMMARY


Core Idea:


Virtually every client over the past 25 years has listed “communication” as one of their organization’s key shortcomings. Try these four techniques and let us know how they work for you. We're interested in your feedback.


The biggest barrier to communication is that we as a species do a really poor job of listening.

About the author(s):


Tom Willis is a Co-Founder and Partner with Phoenix Performance Partners. He had the great honor of serving as CEO for Cornerstone; a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers; and an engineer with the Intel Corporation. His life is all about helping others uncover their talents so they can reach their unlimited potential and their organization can thrive.


| Linkedin: Tom


Brad Zimmerman is a Co-Founder and Partner with Phoenix Performance Partners. Zimmerman turned to organizational coaching more than 26 years ago following a successful career in sales and operations. Today, he helps businesses, nonprofits and other organizations develop cultures that transform work environments so people grow and the organizations thrive.


| Linkedin: Brad

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