Listening to others and respectfully adding your own input is a key to success at work. If you don’t take the time to hear out those you work with, you risk alienating yourself from the team and losing out on all the smart ideas you could be collaborating with them on — because your ideas, your voice, and your own concern with how you appear is causing them to stay silent.
Here’s how to become more aware of the messages you potentially send others when yours is often the only voice heard in the room.
Listen to yourself first
One of the hardest parts of being a good listener is learning to shut up and let someone else have the floor. It requires a certain generosity of spirit: letting the spotlight shine on other people.
How do you know if you have it?
If you’re agonized when someone else is talking and you’re not, you’re lacking this generosity. It’s just as bad if you’re in a conversation and you’re just waiting for someone else to finish talking so that you can jump in again — to direct the conversation back to yourself. If you’re in a conversation or a meeting and every statement you make starts with “I,” then you’re not listening: You’re broadcasting. And when you’re in groups or meetings, start keeping track of how often each person speaks. Are you the dominant voice in the room, but not running the meeting? Then everyone is hearing from you way too much.
This takes self-awareness, which doesn’t come easily to everyone; it’s easy to get into a groove or fall in love with our own ideas because, after all, they are ours, and to champion them to the ends of the earth.
That’s fine, if you want to go that route, but it cuts us off from others. Humans are social, and speech, when it’s done well, helps bond us. If you’re talking when you should be listening, you’re telling people you don’t care about their ideas and you’re missing out on friends.
Listen, process and ask questions
The best way to become a good listener fast: instead of making declarative statements, stop and assume you don’t everything. Chances are, you don’t have all the information you need.
Instead, ask questions.
Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman wrote a Harvard Business Review article about their analysis of 3,492 people “in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches.” They tried to judge which managers were better listeners.
In every case, the better listeners were the active ones, who didn’t just sit across from someone, but actually asked questions.
They found that “people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehended it well enough to want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog, rather than a one-way ‘speaker versus hearer’ interaction. The best conversations were active.”
So don’t just launch words at people: make sure you’re understanding what they think.
Don’t be afraid to call yourself out
Becoming a better listener is a process, and it can be hard work. The chances are that if you go down the route of trying to be a better listener, people will support you. But even the best listeners sometimes backslide into not really paying attention to what people are saying.
Paul Donoghue, psychologist and co-author of “Are You Really Listening? Keys to Successful Communication” with Mary Siegel, told U.S. News & World Report about what to say when you find yourself slipping back into your old ways.
“Even if you’re mid-sentence, catch yourself. ‘Here I go again, giving advice’,” he told he site.
Check out their point of view
A conversation is, at its root, a way for two or more people to share information. If you’re the only one speaking, you’re not learning. To create stronger connections with people, make an effort to understand who you’re speaking with.
Paul Sacco, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work told HuffPost about how to empathize with the person across from you. It’s as simple as putting yourself in their shoes.
“Spend a moment putting yourself in their position, what’s going through their head and what it must be like for them…Understanding what their experience is even before you talk to them [can help you connect with them]. And it sounds bad, but even if you blow it, you’re still better off because the other person will see the attempt,” Sacco told the publication.
There are specific techniques you can use to show you’re trying to see someone else’s point of view. One good option: repeat what they said and ask if you understand it correctly. “You just said you’re unhappy where you are. I’m hearing that you’d like to move on to something else. Is that right?”
Put your listening skills to the test
If taking up conversations with mostly your input is a habit of yours, you might want to give this a try.
A Forbes article features a “listening skills exercise” that requires you to summarize what you just heard. It’s a good way to make sure you’re really listening.
“For at least one week, at the end of every conversation in which information is exchanged, conclude with a summary statement. In conversations that result in agreements about future obligations or activities, summarizing will not only ensure accurate follow-through, it will feel perfectly natural. In conversations that do not include agreements, if summarizing feels awkward just explain that you are doing it as an exercise,” the article says.
Being a better listener will show others that your care about their ideas and contributions — at work, socially, or at home. The benefits are better relationships and a greater sense of appreciation for the people around you. It’s hard to argue against that.