Sunday, 27 February 2011

How to be a good listener

One of most common criticisms aimed at Andrew Lansley, UK Secretary of State for health, and, to be fair - most politicians, is that they don’t listen. Listening is a valuable skill and means so much more than staying silent or waiting for your turn to speak. Here are some useful tips to help you become a good listener.

Lean forward: whether you are sitting around a conference table or in the audience at a presentation, your interaction with the speaker is one to one. Leaning forward towards the person speaking demonstrates your interest in what they have to say. Leaning backwards can suggest that you want to be dominant and ‘take over’ the conversation,

Remove barriers: a barrier is anything that blocks the access or view between you and the speaker. This can be a chair, an open laptop, a water jug or simply folding your arms in front of your chest. Folded arms are a sign of negative body language and can indicate that you’re not listening or that you’re not open to the ideas being discussed.

Maintain eye contact: a good listener should maintain eye contact for around two thirds of the time that someone is speaking. If you feel uncomfortable looking someone in the eye, try looking at their forehead. The speaker will not know you the difference but will still feel as though you are making eye contact. Matching the speaker’s facial expressions also allows you to build up a rapport and shows that you understand the message they are trying to get across.

Switch-off any distractions: it’s very easy to keep facing the computer or to keep your hands on the keyboard when someone is speaking to you but this can be interpreted as impolite or uninterested. Make sure that you give the speaker your full attention by switching off your mobile phone, or at least removing it from view, and turning away from your computer or shutting it down completely.

Tilt your head: tilting your head to one side is another way to show that you are focused and engaged with what is being discussed. Nodding your head has the same effect.

Take notes and stay focussed: note taking is a good way to show that you are interested and will also help to keep you alert during a presentation or discussion. Where possible take notes by hand as an open laptop can act as a barrier between you and the speaker. If you find your mind wandering or a daydream threatens to invade your concentration, start taking some notes to keep yourself on track.

Check your understanding: Ask pertinent questions where appropriate. However eloquent or clear a speaker is, they will still expect you to demonstrate your understanding and your engagement.

Do not interrupt: This can be very difficult if the speaker is waffling or you vehemently disagree with them. It is common for very confident people to interrupt speakers simply to agree with them – not helpful – and you might miss some vital information.

Keep the speaker on side: Ask meaningful questions to give the speaker an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge. If you help the speaker to feel good, they will take more notice of you when it is your turn to speak. It’s all about THEM, not about YOU. Trumping their stories with one better about you will alienate the speaker

What’s in it for you? Remember – people pay more attention to a good listener. You’ll get your turn to speak and they will return the compliment by listening carefully to you.

As my teacher once wrote in my school report…
‘If Marcia stopped talking for five minutes, she might learn something’


Post a Comment