Every conversation has more than two sides - but are you actually hearing what other people have to say, and gathering more information in the process? Consider these 10 tips that can help you become ...
Every conversation has more than two sides – but are you actually hearing what other people have to say, and gathering more information in the process? Consider these 10 tips that can help you become a better listener:
1. Choose your environment – Be conscious of your physical surroundings when choosing an appropriate setting for a conversation. “Obviously, eliminating any distractions is a fundamental beginning,” says Daryl Landau of Common Ground, a consultant who offers training in mediation techniques. That means ensuring there will be no interruptions. Turn off your cell phone and close the door. “You want them to feel comfortable opening up and disclosing something to you.”
“Go to a safe space that doesn’t ‘belong’ to the human resources person,” adds communication expert Patti Wood, referring to the value of neutral territory such as a boardroom.
2. Be an active listener – Physically demonstrate that you’re listening to someone through actions such as re-stating their comments and nodding your head. “The person you are speaking to has to believe that you’re hearing the message, whether that’s done through restating some of the key points they have said, or note taking, or following with pertinent questions,” Landau says.
But beware of falling into a “rote exercise” by repeating “What I hear you saying is …” before each point, he says. “It has to sound natural rather than contrived.”
3. Ask open-ended questions – A well-crafted question can be as important as the answer itself. Closed or confrontational questions (Did you falsify this trip report?) may lead to yes or no answers. In comparison, open and supportive questions (Something doesn’t make sense to me here. Can you help me understand this?) will help you gather more information.
4. Check your ego at the door – All too often, those who face confrontations tend to stop listening, and immediately focus on points that they want to make, Landau says. “The key is really to exercise some tact,” he adds. “Really focus on the other person’s concerns. Listen to the message.”
5. Establish a history – An employee’s open demeanor will often depend on the quality of relationship that is established before a conversation ever takes place, Landau notes. Remember that every conversation will have an effect on the next one.
6. Offer the benefit of the doubt – A conversation will be particularly one-sided unless you offer the other person some benefi t of the doubt. “Invite them to join you to establish what the truth is,” Landau says. “As long as you come across with clearly giving the benefit of the doubt to them … they’re as open as they possibly can be.”
7. Listen for the silences – A sudden pause from someone who has otherwise answered quickly and readily can be a sign that they’re trying to evade a question, or crafting a response. “You’re listening for the silences, or maybe a different tone of voice,” Landau says.
8. Use extended silences to your advantage – An extended silence can make people feel uncomfortable, causing them to continue talking as a way to fill in the gaps.
9. Listen for the lies – Someone who is lying will tend to take longer pauses between questions and answers, and will deliver shorter answers than someone who is simply nervous, Wood adds. They’ll also begin to exhibit various physical actions that indicate nervousness, such as excessively scratching their nose, or playing with their pen.
10. Conclude with confidence – If the conversation has involved a reprimand, take the time to ask the person if there is anything that might keep them from changing their ways. Here, you’re looking for signs of hesitation, Wood says. If you sense hesitation, point it out and continue the conversation. A final handshake will also renew the symbolic bond that existed before the conflict, she adds. After all, you want to end in a way that will encourage future conversations.
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