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How to Improve Listening and Communication in the Workplace

In order to succeed, we all must be able to write, speak and listen effectively. In the workplace, listening is used at least three times as much as speaking, and four to five times as much as reading and writing. It is crucial for communication and has a major impact on job effectiveness and on the quality of your relationships with your cohorts.

However, becoming an effective listener does not come naturally. It takes work, determination and focus. As pointed out in The Snelling Blog, we need to be deliberate and focused with our listening in order to truly hear what the other person is saying. We need to:

  • Concentrate
  • Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors
  • Ask question and paraphrase
  • Leverage non-verbal listening cues

Concentration is difficult. It means focusing on one thing (in this case – the conversation) to the exclusion of all else. It can be difficult to concentrate on particular conversation, especially if you are preoccupied or are not interested in the subject being discussed. Concentration does require discipline, motivation and the acceptance of responsibility for effective listening. If you are finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try mentally repeating the other person’s words as they say them. This will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.

Set Aside Other Thoughts and Behaviors – Pay Attention
Give the speaker your undivided attention. Look at the speaker and put aside distracting thoughts or activities. Distractions heavily impair our ability to process information. Vanderbilt University published a study where participants were asked to perform basic image and sound recognition tasks, and found that answers were delayed when two tasks were done at the same time. Now, this might not be a matter of life in death in the business world, but it can make carrying on a conversation with a multi-tasker very irritating.

Enabling technologies (such as the Internet, email, texts and IM) provide easily accessible distractions, so refrain from using these technologies during any type of important communication.

Ask Questions and Paraphrase
Our own personal experiences, assumptions, outlooks and beliefs distort what we hear. However, part of being an effective listener is to understand what is being said. One of the best ways to do that is to paraphrase, ask clarifying questions and summarize the speaker’s comments.

Leverage non-verbal listening cues
Have you ever been part of a conversation and wondered if the other person is listening to what you are saying? You wonder if your message is being heard, understood, or if it is being ignored in favor of an internal debate over menu-planning for the week. Do you think others feel like that when they communicate with you?

It is important for effective communication to make others feel that they are not talking to a brick wall. Acknowledgement can be something as simple as a head nod. This does not mean that you are agreeing; by nodding your head (or saying “uh huh”), you are simply indicating that you are listening. Focus on using other body language, such as leaning slightly forward and making eye contact to indicate that you are listening. This will also remind you to focus on the conversation and not let your mind wander.

Start focusing on effective listening and you will become a better communicator, improve your workplace productivity and develop better relationships with your peers, superiors and subordinates. If you would like more information on how to help improve listening skills or any other workplace issues, contact your local office, and one of our talented staff members can assist you with your needs.