7 ways to become a better workplace listener

Approach conversations with the goal of learning something, ask thoughtful, open-ended questions, and use your ears more than your mouth.

7 listening tips

There’s a reason we have two ears and just one mouth.

The problem, for most of us, is that we prefer speaking over listening. This inability to tame our tongues might seem a small matter, but failing to prioritize listening—or neglecting to cultivate this vital skill—can badly damage your career.

Regardless of your position, follow these steps to become a better listener:

  • Approach each dialogue with the goal of learning something. Instead of dictating the conversation or plotting what you want to convey, consider: “This person can teach me something. What new insight or perspective can my colleague share with me?” This mindset will help you ask more incisive questions, which leads to better, more substantive answers.
  • Stop talking, and focus closely on the speaker. Suppress the urge to multitask or think about what you are going to say next. Put down the phone, close the laptop, and make direct eye contact with the speaker. If you tend to talk over people—or if you’re uncomfortable with silence—challenge yourself to hush up and let the other person speak.
  • Open and guide the conversation with broad, open-ended questions. Use intros that require some thoughtful consideration, such as, “How do you envision this project?” or “Help me understand how you’re thinking about this.”
  • Then, drill down into details. After breaking the ice with open-ended questions, ask direct, specific questions that crystallize the conversation, such as, “How would this work?” or “What challenges might we face?”
  • Pay attention to your responses. Be aware of your body language and what your nonverbal cues are conveying. Your posture, face and arms can either facilitate further dialogue or subtly shut someone down. Smile, make eye contact, don’t cross your arms, and make it clear that you’re listening intently.
  • Summarize what you’re hearing, and ask questions to confirm your understanding. Use phrases such as, “Here’s what I hear you saying,” or “Let me summarize what I’m hearing.”
  • Search for larger meaning and context. A conversation is much more than words. Monitor body language and facial expressions to see whether the person is struggling to convey what they really mean. If you sense the person wants to say more, lend a patient, reassuring and empathetic ear to put them at ease.

The goal is to better understand where someone is coming from and to decipher exactly what they’re trying to convey. This mindful approach to listening will make you a superior communicator and storyteller—and it will make you an indispensable part of any organization.

How do you cultivate listening skills in the workplace? What tips would you recommend?

David Grossman is founder and CEO of The Grossman Group. A version of this post first appeared on The Grossman Group Leader Communicator blog.

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