by Josh Millar
This week, I wanted to dive into an often-overlooked area of communication. When we talk about communication skills, we tend to focus on what we say and how we say it. We think about things like clarity, tone, and brevity. These things are absolutely important, but if we don’t balance them with other important aspects, we can miss the mark. So, what’s this key element of great communication? Listening. It’s so easy to get caught up in what we want to say that we neglect the other half of communicating that is listening. Here are some useful strategies to give your listening skills a boost:
There are two important parts of listening. Of course, we want to take in information and engage with it. We want to truly hear what the other person is saying. The other part is that we want the person we’re speaking with to feel valued and heard. We want to make sure they know we’re listening. Removing distractions is essential to accomplishing both of these things. Distractions grab our attention. When you’re waiting for an email or see an incoming text from your boss, you may tune out of the conversation and miss what the other person is saying. In addition, when you leave your phone on the table or are interrupted with notification sounds, it can send a message that your attention is elsewhere.
Use Body Language
Thinking about showing that we’re listening, in addition to removing distractions, we can also use our body language to convey this. Maintaining an open stance, sitting up tall, making eye contact, nodding, and using facial expressions are all ways to show that we’re listening. They also help us to better engage and be more present in the conversation.
Sometimes we’re eager to move a conversation along, or maybe we’re a bit nervous. Whatever the reason, from time to time, you might find yourself working to avoid pauses in a conversation. It’s important to become comfortable with occasional silences. Brief pauses are part of the natural flow of conversation. They give you time to digest information and synthesize new thoughts.
This is a key reason that a brief pause may be necessary. That small silence will allow you to formulate a thoughtful question. While you might show up to a meeting with a list of questions, if you want to engage more deeply in the discussion, practice asking more questions on the spot. You can’t prepare for exactly what the other person is going to say, so creating all your questions in advance can leave you missing key pieces of new information. Whether you need more clarity on something, what to express your interest, or simply want to know more, asking questions is an important part of active listening.
Finally, it’s often worth bringing a small notebook with you to meetings. You don’t need to log every back and forth, of course. But by giving yourself a place to note important points, you make it easier to remember key questions down the line in the conversation. You also create a useful record for yourself. Finally, these notes are highly useful when you’re crafting a follow-up message. When you mention something specific from the conversation, the other person will feel reassured of your listening.
All great communicators understand balance. They know how to divide their focus between their own words and the words of others. They know how to tune in and be present, and they’re able to engage with new information on the spot. The next time you find yourself in a conversation or meeting, take some time to reflect on how you listen. By incorporating a few of these tips, you may be able to step up your game.