8 Steps for Effective Listening in Business

The act of listening is harder than you may think. It is a gift that many of us think we possess. The fact is, truly listening to someone – whether it be a peer, a subordinate or a partner – takes time. Many of us busy professionals could use some pointers when it comes to effective listening.

For starters, listening entails these three elements:

1) Actively absorbing the information from a speaker

2) Expressing interest in what is being said

3) Giving feedback that tells the speaker their message is being received

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet, many of us struggle with it. Without effective listening you can’t clearly understand what is needed and ensure that you are providing the best possible feedback.

This is especially important when it comes to peers in the workplace. Here are a few advantages to listening in business situations:

  • Helps to reduce the amount of conflicts that might arise and improves the likelihood they will be resolved with a quick solution when they do happen
  • Listening well to employees that you manage will help you understand what makes them tick, which provides you with opportunities to learn how best to motivate them. Understanding what they value – praise, more responsibility, etc. ­– will go a long way and help you earn their respect.
  • Creates a higher-level of commitment to your company from your team members

Of course, the benefits of having listening skills don’t only apply to those who manage people. Use the skill to increase the trust that others place in you. Build better relationships of any kind and make fewer errors, which also prevents wasted time.

If you want to become a better listener in general, no matter who is delivering a message, follow these steps:

1) Eye contact:

This is an important first step. Be sure to face the speaker. Don’t get distracted by devices, or anything else that will divert your attention from the speaker. Stay focused, even if that person is shy and has a hard time looking you in the eye. After eye contact has been established, show the speaker you are present.  Be attentive, but also relaxed.

2) Listen with an open mind:

Don’t get distracted by your own thoughts, feelings or biases. You do not know what the other person is thinking so do not assume you do by jumping to conclusions before he or she has finished the point.

3) Paint a picture:

Permit your mind to create a mental picture of what is being communicated, whether it’s a literal picture or one with abstract concepts. If you are listening for long stretches, remember key takeaways and concentrate on those.

This is key: While listening, do not spend your time planning on what to say next. It’s not possible to effectively listen and rehearse your next thought at the same time.

No doubt we have all been bored while listening to others speak. If your thoughts start to roam, force yourself to refocus on what is being said.

4) Do not interrupt!

We are all very different, so obviously people think and speak at different rates. The burden is on you to relax your mental pace to match the person who may have trouble expressing themselves if you want to be a good listener.

Adjusting your pace will help you avoid interrupting to finish someone’s sentence or cutting of the speaker to start offering a solution before the relevant information has been provided.

Interrupting sends negative messages to others: such as, “I’m more important than you are” or “I don’t really care what you think.”

5) Ask questions only pertaining to the topic:

Wait until the speaker pauses before asking any questions. Make sure those questions help you to get a better understanding of what’s being communicated. It is easy to steer the conversation in a very different direction when your questions have little to do with the topic at hand.

6) Be empathetic:

To be a great listener, you must put yourself in the speaker’s shoes and feel what that person is conveying. It does take concentration and energy, but when the speaker can see empathetic facial expressions from you, there is a clear message of “I am being heard.” Empathy is at the center of all good listening.

7) Give regular feedback:

Show you are listening with nods or interjecting affirmations like, “I can see that you are confused.” If you are unclear, paraphrase the message back to them. Whatever your style, just be sure to give the speaker proof that you are listening and following his or her train of thought.

8) Non-verbal cues:

A large majority of (in-person) communication is nonverbal. You can gather so much information from one another without even saying a word. Pay attention to:

  • Tone and cadence of voice
  • Do you detect emotions like enthusiasm, boredom, or irritation?
  • Notice the look in their eyes, set of the mouth, and posture

You should never ignore these important clues when communicating with anyone.

As a good rule in general, and to keep honing your listening skills, always repeat messages and instructions to ensure you receive the message loud and clear.