After interviewing 37,000 people on The Oprah Winfrey Show, what’s the one thing Oprah found they all had in common?
A desire to be heard, to be understood.
Oprah interviewed U.S. presidents, entertainers, authors, and members of her audience. At the end of every interview, they all asked some version of the same question, “How was I? Did I do okay? How did I do?” Although we think we hear everything that is said to us, we don’t always but we listen. Poor listening skills can lead to major conflicts in the workplace and can result in lost business opportunities, lack of alignment, employee dissatisfaction, and even lawsuits.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Good listening skills can be cultivated. In this blog, I will show you that, with practice, you can learn to:
- Demonstrate your attentiveness
- Help the speaker share information
- Uncover critical information
- Produce more successful outcomes
Prove Your Desire to Listen
Most people are aware that body language is one indicator of active listening. But smiling and nodding alone is not enough. Show the speaker that she has your full attention. Put your phone away. Turn off your computer monitor or minimize everything on the screen. If possible, move to a room or table where you are free of competing distractions and interruptions.
Be Curious & Help the Speaker
Don’t interrupt, instead wait for natural breaks or pauses in the conversation to ask an open-ended question. You can guide the speaker to share more information by asking questions such as, “How did that make you feel?” or “Is that what you were expecting?”
Uncover Critical Information
Summarizing and clarifying what you have heard the speaker say improves the dialogue and minimizes any misunderstanding, confusion, or ambiguity. Using clarifying questions is a powerful tool to help clients and colleagues feel supported and help them refine their ideas or opinions. It also helps uncover information that might not have been forthcoming.
Clarifying questions provide feedback to the speaker, indicating which parts of their message were unclear. If you’re confused, asking for more details will provide clues about what’s missing. Open-ended questions, as described above, are one example. Probing and clarifying are others.
Probing questions can come across as confrontational or critical, discouraging open dialogue. Clarifying questions provide a pause, delaying the urge to jump to reactions, while probing questions offer judgment. Clarifying questions are encouraged; probing are discouraged.
Produce Better Outcomes
The goal of becoming a better listener is to have more productive conversations. When people feel heard their satisfaction, trust, and connection increases. Employees report less burnout and tend to perceive their managers more favorably when their opinions are heard – even if they are not acted upon.
Of course, good listening is more difficult if you disagree with or dislike the speaker. Good listening doesn’t mean that you will always agree. With practice, you will become a more skilled listener. Remember that high-quality listening promotes open-mindedness.
What business leader doesn’t want to create a non-judgmental, psychologically safe environment where the truth is spoken and heard?