Listening is a skill which is trickier to accomplish than one might think but it is critical to personal and professional development and absolutely essential in the workplace.
We often feel the need to talk when really we should be listening. For some us this is driven by anxiety, some of us simply can’t help ourselves, and then there are those of us who are completely unaware that we do it. Whatever our reasons for over-speaking, reining ourselves in a bit and placing more of an emphasis on listening is an invaluable workplace skill.
Of course, there are many times when talking is essential, for example, when you have someone’s undivided attention and they are learning from you. But, there are also times when talking too much can obstruct the creative and processing time of others or interrupt team creativity, particularly during brainstorming sessions. For some people quiet moments trigger a compulsion to break the silence, disrupting the thought processes of others.
It’s easy not to notice that you are a talker, so it’s important to take a step back and self-assess, observing one’s own behaviour and studying the body language of those around you to learn about how they respond to you. If people avoid starting a conversation with you or shy away, walking swiftly past your desk with only the briefest of acknowledgements, this could be an indicator that you are a talker. Other signs could be that when people speak to you they say things like, “I’m in the middle of something and only have a few minutes,” or, “This needs to be brief.”
If all these things are resonating with you then help is at hand. Here are five simple steps to being a good listener, and they mostly involve not talking quite so much.
1. Avoid speaking over others
Clearly, speaking over others is just plain rude but there are those of us who, without restraint, can’t help but speak loudly over others. Giving space to others to complete their sentences and get their message across shows respect and makes them feel valued. Cutting into other people’s conversations is likely to alienate you, and while it is unlikely that you want others to feel like you have no care for what they have to say, when you speak over them, this is exactly how it seems.
2. Be mindful
It’s important to pay attention to just how much you talk. This pertains to being mindful of how much time is left in a meeting to allow others to have an input, or if what you are saying bounces from one topic to another without giving anyone else the chance to respond or interject. It’s all about the back and forth in a conversation and how much time you might be taking for yourself without affording others the opportunity to get a word in. Be conscious to listen as much as you are speaking, or perhaps even listen more than you are speaking.
3. Embrace the silence
Those of us who are uncomfortable with silence when in the company of others are likely to speak just to fill a void. But others relish lulls in conversation using them as a moment to gather their thoughts and come up with ideas for discussion. If you are a silence breaker then learn to embrace that lull, allowing the silence to linger without compulsively diving in with chatter which might disturb the train of thought of others. Additionally, refrain from prompting people to speak until they make eye contact, a signal that they’ve finished formulating an idea and are ready to share it.
4. Be curious
Listening carefully and being curious about what other people have to say will, by default, help you refrain from speaking too much. Asking questions of others and staying fully present while you listen to their replies will be mutually beneficial and by showing interest in what other people have to say, people are more likely to enjoy listening to you in return. Adversely, monopolising conversations sends signals to others that their opinions are not valued and will ultimately lead to disengagement.
5. Keep a pen and notebook handy
There will be occasions when the compulsion to speak is triggered by an idea popping into your head which you need to communicate before it pops out again. In this case, simply keep a pen and notebook nearby and jot the idea down, leaving others to finish what they are saying. If the opportunity to mention the idea later in the meeting doesn’t present itself, simply send a follow-up email, detailing your brilliant brainwave. In this way, everyone’s time limits have been honoured, but your idea can still be shared and considered.
You might have the gift of the gab and love the sound of your own voice, or you may speak too much compulsively and without meaning to, but its really important in the workplace (and out of it for that matter) not to dominate discussions and to yield the floor to others who may not be so confident speaking up but whose opinions and ideas are no less valid than your own. Be mindful of talking too much and give others their turn. Be attentive when you listen to others and show interest and curiosity for their ideas. Embrace the lull and give time to others to process their thoughts. If an idea pops into your head while someone else is speaking, rather than interrupt, make a note of the idea and raise it later. Most of all, refrain from speaking over someone else as it may result in others tuning you out completely.
Ultimately, to be a good listener, we just need to talk less! Simple!
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