It’s Only Common Sense: Want to Be a Better Listener? Try These 5 Tips

Reading time ( words)

Every now and then I feel the urge to write about the great art of not just hearing, but true and active listening. About once a year, I feel like it needs to be brought up and discussed—maybe for your benefit or mine. This is one of those things that I need to work on.

I often get so enthusiastic when talking to someone that I end up talking too much, or interrupting the speaker, or talking over them. This is my problem. It’s a case of “teacher teach thyself.” But especially as I attend both virtual and live meetings, I am reminded repeatedly of the importance—and skill—of listening.

Here are some great tips I found in a new book called 10 Soft Skills of Highly Desirable People by James E. Brudermyer. This is an excellent book by the way, and I urge you all to read it. I include both his suggestions and my own thoughts about these tips.

  1. Let the other person talk. Asking questions and then being quiet will encourage others to speak. I know being quiet can be hard to do and sometimes we are so enthused by what the person is saying that we want to jump in, but don’t! It will interrupt their train of thought. Sometimes you need to talk first to get them talking but learn to figure out when they need to talk first.
  2. Refrain from interrupting. No matter how much you want to jump in and correct them or defend yourself, hold back and listen first. This is especially true when someone is giving you hell for something you or your company has done. Let them get it out. Let them blow off that steam until they tire themselves out. They will respect you in the long run if you let them talk and take it like the person that you truly are.
  3. Don’t finish their sentences. Don’t try to fill in the blanks or give them the words to say. Give them time to think. This will allow others to finish their sentences or find the appropriate word. Doing this builds rapport while gently prompting them to fill the silence with more information. This is perhaps the most important advice of all. In fact, an entire column (if not a book) could be written on the power of silence. I’ve learned that someone who can best handle the sounds of silence (and they are very loud indeed) is the one who wins the upper hand in the end. I once sat in silence across the desk from a buyer. I had just finished my pitch for a multi-million-dollar contract and handed him a brand new, gold Cross pen to sign it. We sat there in silence for five minutes as he held the pen in his hand. Let me tell you, it felt like five hours. Finally, he gave a sigh, looked at me, smiled wryly, expressed a few expletives, and signed the contract.
  4. Suspend your judgment. To really concentrate on what another person is saying, we must postpone thinking about what we say next. We’re probably all guilty of thinking about what we want to say in response, rather than just listening, and it’s very obvious to the other person. When we’re focusing on our responses, we can’t listen fully. In fact, it signals to them that we aren’t listening at all. If you really don’t want to forget something, write it down, and you can come back to it later when you have more information. We will often miss the answer to the very question we are going to ask when there is a pause in the conversation.
  5. Pay attention to non-verbal signals. This includes eye contact, facial expressions, body language, and how their voice sounds—for example, if it is raised or lowered in pitch or volume, or maybe if it’s quivering. This enables us to strategically read between the lines. When you look them in the eye and nod every so often it gives them the non-verbal indication that you are indeed paying attention. On the other hand, I am not sure what you do when a person’s voice starts quivering. I’ve never had that experience of making a buyer’s voice quiver.

So, I hope you’ve listened to my suggestions. Focus not just on hearing what someone says, but really listen and concentrate. You will become an excellent listener, and heaven knows, we could use many more of those.

It’s only common sense.

Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.


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