Want Greater Productivity While Working with Co-Workers?

"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." 
- Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

If the Covey quote hits home, you're certainly not alone. Research suggests that we remember only between 25 and 50 percent of what we hear, mainly because we're mentally formulating our rebuttal while the other person's speaking. This means when you're talking to your manager, colleagues, or customers, they're not hearing what you're saying...and unless you're a skilled listener yourself, you're not hearing them either.

Listening has a major impact on your effectiveness at work and on the quality of your relationships. While many of us receive professional training on speaking, few of us receive training on listening.

Becoming a better listener takes a concerted effort but it will improve your productivity, your ability to influence others, and help avoid misunderstandings, often a major source of workplace conflict. Here are the top six ways to demonstrate good listening skills. How many do you practice?

Maintain eye contact. You've probably had a conversation with someone who keeps looking around or becomes distracted while you're speaking. Did you rush through to finish your thoughts? Feel frustrated? Ignored? A good listener will maintain eye contact, only looking away to prevent uncomfortable staring. When someone stays focused on you, you feel more relaxed and able to fully and completely express your thoughts.

Provide feedback. A good listener stays mentally engaged by providing verbal and non-verbal feedback. Looking thoughtful, smiling if appropriate, nodding, or saying, uh-huh? Show you're following what's being said, not necessarily agreeing. Sometimes, especially during large and lengthy meetings, it's easy to lose focus. In that case try silently repeating the speaker's words. It reinforces what they're saying and helps you pay attention.

Encourage the speaker to continue. Reflect on what's been said by either paraphrasing with? "What I'm hearing is," or "It sounds like you're suggesting," to make sure you've understood correctly. Encourage the speaker to further open up by saying things like, "That's really interesting," or "Tell me more."

Wait before responding. Give no sign you're ready to respond. Don't raise your hand, wave, open your mouth, or finish the speaker's sentence. When they speaker pauses, practice counting two full seconds to make sure they are not just gathering their thoughts, but are actually finished making their point before you respond.

Don't interrupt. Not interrupting others is something we learn at our mother's knee, but it can be difficult to hold back when emotions run high or you want to debate an issue. You may even have an answer to a question that was raised, but show restraint and respect. If you don't want to lose your thought, discreetly jot it down and return your focus to the speaker. A good listener always keeps emotions in check and remains open to new ideas.

Stay focused on the conversation at hand. Avoid a sudden switch of topic. If you change the subject prematurely, you demonstrate lack of interest in the discussion and indicate that what you have to say is more important than the current conversation. Likewise don't start a sidebar conversation. Even if the speaker is not making eye contact with you, you are still part of the general conversation and sidebars distract others. Finally, if you want to illustrate a point using yourself as an example, keep the story brief, then return to the original conversation.

There's a lot more to listening than simply hearing the words. With a little practice you too can master the art of listening and enjoy better relationships and greater productivity at work. The rewards - maybe even a promotion - are well worth it!



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