Listen Up: 4 Ways to Improve Every Conversation

Upgrade your people skills and success with these steps

(Image: ThinkStock)

(Image: ThinkStock)

Are you really listening when someone else is talking? Chances are that you’re not. Of course you’re probably “hearing” what the other person is saying, but that’s a far cry from being actively engaged in the conversation—listening with the intent to understand and connect more deeply to the speaker. Research demonstrates that listening is a critical skill, especially in the workplace. A recent Wall Street Journal article explores listening as a professional competency and notes that, “The failure to listen well not only prolongs meetings and discussions, but also can hurt relationships and damage careers.”

Do you think having less than stellar listening skills has hurt your relationships or damaged your career?

Become a better listener and improve every conversation with these four tips:

Avoid Distractions. Before you begin any conversation, immediately determine that your goal is to listen, learn, and establish rapport. This will keep you focused on the other person and avoid distractions like: simultaneous conversations, texting, surfing the Internet, staring out the window, or worse. Effective listening requires concentration, so resist the urge to become immersed in anything other than the current conversation. And, if someone interrupts your conversation, politely advise that you will discuss the matter with them later. Remember that the goal is thoughtful engagement, so avoid doing anything that will make the other person feel slighted.

Communicate Engagement. After successfully avoiding distractions, you’ll have an opportunity to connect more deeply with the speaker. Here, the goal is to demonstrate that you are listening. How do you do that? There are, of course, several different ways. But, here are three that successfully communicate engagement: nodding, giving good eye-contact, and asking good follow-up questions (questions that include key details communicated by the other party and elicit additional information). Using a combination of these will not only demonstrate that you are listening, but also add to the value of your overall conversation.

Wait Your Turn. Interrupting someone is one of the worse things that you can do during a conversation. Even if you feel absolutely compelled to share your thoughts, exercise a good bit of self-control and wait. Wait until the other person finishes speaking and then introduce your point. Listen for the right opportunity to chime in. They’ll usually be more than enough time to discuss your contributions without blurting your thoughts all over the other person. If it’s ever happened to you, then you know how disturbing it is—another great reason not to do it!

Provide Feedback and Punctuate. Conversations are meant for mutual benefit and are structured for participation by both parties. By listening for key details, you can better express your thoughts, ideas, or reaction to the information presented, even if you don’t agree with it. This process helps to flesh out ideas and encourages greater understanding between the parties. If you haven’t been listening, it will be difficult to provide meaningful feedback.

Prior to finalizing the conversation, be sure to punctuate it. Your listening skills pay dividends here as well. Ask: “Have you heard everything necessary to help you seal the deal? Has key information been omitted for next steps?” If so, then clear up those details  before concluding the conversation.

Remember, the secret to becoming a better conversationalist is listening more and talking less.

To your success!

Karima Mariama-Arthur, Esq. is the founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport, an international consulting firm specializing in professional development. Follow her on Twitter: @wsrapport or visit her website, WordSmithRapport.com.

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