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Wait…what?

business communication

I hear people all the time saying this when they get caught off guard as a result of poor listening and attention. Listening is such an important skill in the workplace that many successful businesses hire professionals to provide listening skills training for their employees and management teams. The importance of not only hearing each other, but of actively listening – focusing, and accurately interpreting messages – in a work environment is vital, especially when communicating between management and employees.

In business, if yours is a workplace where the boss listens well, employees will speak up and relay concerns, voice ideas for possible solutions, and take initiative for ways to add value to the project, team, or the company.

If the boss doesn’t listen well, you’ll find yourself with team members who are frustrated or indifferent (and often express this through complaining at the water cooler), sit passively in meetings, and have a general lack of pro-active initiative to really contribute, because they don’t feel like the contributions they do make are valued.

By becoming a better listener, you can address and enhance all of these things, and then some.

Here are some tips to become a better listener:

1. Have a Caring Attitude

Having a caring attitude as a boss in your company is one of the best things you can do to facilitate a good and effective working environment. When employees know your door is always open and that you will really listen and try to resolve problems or hear out their ideas, they will be more likely to approach you, and become stronger members of your team and work community.

2. Set aside everything else

When an employee or coworker is talking to you, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by anything else around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Listen first. This is their time to deliver their message, your time to listen to and consider it. Not until they’ve finished should you think about what you have to say.

3. Empathize

Try to see issues from the speaker’s perspective and try to understand their point of view.

4. Never interrupt or try to finish someone’s sentence for them

It’s not helpful, it’s rude, wastes time, and frustrates the person who is trying to give you the message because it means you’re not giving them the chance to say what they have to say. Make sure you let them finish each point before you speak or ask questions.

5. Be Patient

Additionally, just because they pause doesn’t mean you should start talking. Some people think and speak at a different pace; give them time to think, and don’t speak until you are certain they have finished.

6. Provide Feedback

This kind of feedback doesn’t mean providing advice or suggestions. This is the kind of feedback to show them you’re paying attention and getting the message. As a good active listener, your job is to understand what the speaker is trying to communicate to you. Feedback in this case means: Reflecting and Clarifying.

Reflect back to the speaker what you hear, or paraphrase what you think has been said. A good example of reflecting: “So what I hear you saying is…”

Clarify with questions, to make sure you’re both on the same page. If there is anything that is unclear, or that you could get wrong in your interpretation at this point, don’t hesitate to ask clarifying questions. Good examples of clarifying questions: “What do you mean when you say…” and “Do you mean…”

Listening is a skill, and as with all skills, gets better with practice. Try to keep these things in mind every time you communicate with one of your employees, and keep honing your skill. The positive results will follow.