Listening is a trademark of good teammates. They listen because they seek the truth.
Sure, we can influence others through our words, but we discover the truth by listening. It is how we get to the root of the problem.
Sometimes, we can improve our ability to be a better listener by subtly encouraging the speaker to be a better communicator.
Here are 10 ways for you to be a better listener and improve the speaker’s capacity to communicate:
- Make eye contact
The best listeners listen with their ears and their eyes. Making eye contact forces you to focus on what is being said. It also reveals your level of focus to the speaker. A helpful hint I learned long ago is to focus on just one of the speaker’s eyes, instead of looking broadly at both of them. This simple “ninja” trick has been amazingly effective at improving my listening skills.
- Nod your head
Not only does this encourage the speaker to keep divulging information, but the repetitive motion also triggers a subconscious feeling of understanding. The more clarity and more details you can get the speaker to disclose, the greater your chances are of gaining genuine insight into their way of thinking.
- Put away your phone
Remove your phone and all other handheld devices from the equation. This will minimize your distractions and prevent you from being tempted to take a quick glance at your phone—which we have all become accustomed to doing.
- Show your hands
Similar to the previous point, having empty hands reduces the potential of being distracted. It additionally sends a message to the speaker that you are open and receptive to what he or she has to say and that you are not engaged in any other activity. In general, people are more apt to trust individuals when they can see their hands.
- Lean forward
We speak with our body language, and we listen with it too. When you lean forward, you give the impression of being more engaged. Your proximity to the speaker is directly proportional to the intimacy level of the conversation.
- Mimic their expressions
Sometimes this will happen naturally through the psychological phenomenon known as emotional contagion, but not always. When you start to mimic the speaker’s facial expressions, you convey empathy. Empathy leads to understanding and trust.
- Don’t interrupt
No matter how great the temptation to interject your counterpoint into the discussion, resist the urge! Remember, the discussion is about discovery and getting to the root of the problem. To do this, you need to learn what and how the speaker is thinking. If you interrupt, you may never gain the information you need. Be patient, there will be time when the speaker is fully finished for you to state your thoughts.
While you don’t want to interrupt the speaker with your objections, it is acceptable and even wise to interrupt with a short request for further clarity, or to simply let them know you are not sure what they mean. If you wait until they are fully finished to ask for more details, you risk forgetting your question. You also risk compiling multiple questions the longer they speak, and by the time they’re finished, your list of questions may be too long to revisit.
- Provide a recap
When the speaker is finished, provide them with a brief recap of what they just said. It doesn’t have to be verbatim, but it does have to give them an indication that you heard what was being said. Providing a quick recap instead of a quick reply makes the speaker feel as though they were heard. It also gives them an opportunity to correct anything you may have misinterpreted.
Before you provide a response, briefly pause. Think about what was said and think about what you want to say. Your brief pause lets the speaker know you are absorbing what they said and not just spouting off a response that you had been holding in for the duration of the time they were talking. (If you really want to make this pause effective, nod your head while you pause!)
As always, remember: Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.