A question that people in the business world often forget to ask themselves is: “Am I a good listener?” It’s common for people to question whether or not they are a good listener in their personal lives, and many people see the value in developing communication skills with their life partners or their children. Brio Enterprise strives to encourage people to apply a similar principal to their professional lives. As communication strategists and consultants, we take the skill of listening that is often seen only as valuable in personal situations, and apply it to the workplace, changing the way organizations are run for the better.
Are you a Good Listener?
What’s important to understand is that people aren’t “good” or “bad” listeners. As with all skills, one can develop proficiency, which is most critical to being successful. Proficiency in this situation is educating oneself on how to develop a stronger skillset, and gaining an awareness of how as an individual, one brings unique traits and qualities to different situations. For example: Dan might be deemed a great listener in a situation where he is discussing a common interest such as the Denver Broncos going to the Superbowl, but a poor listener when he is presented with a personal problem between co-workers. When evaluating his listening skills based on proficiency instead of seeing him as a “good” or “bad” listener, it’s recognizing that he has the listening ability, which is separate from context or personality. He could be more skilled in one area of listening compared to another, but once he becomes more educated and aware, he can become proficient in multiple areas.
Using Dan as an example, let’s discuss the ways in which he (or anyone) could learn how to be a proficient listener in more than one context. This is the education element to proficiency.
The Following are 7 Traits of a Proficient Listener:
1. Gives their Full Attention:
Prepares to listen and sets aside all potential distractions. In this situation Dan would put his phone away, move away from his computer screen and turn it off, and show through action that he was interested in being completely present for the conversation.
2. Individualizes the Speaker(s):
Makes an effort to notice different qualities of each person such as accent, tone-of-voice, body language, facial expression, or frequency of giving input. This is straightforward, although it is important to note that not everyone is always focused on other people while they are listening. This is a learned skill, and requires an effort of noticing the smaller, often ignored details in another person.
3. Engages Throughout Interaction:
Asks closed, open and probing questions, waits to respond, and takes turns speaking. It might come more naturally for Dan to talk about the Broncos in a conversation. However, he might get so excited he might not even realize that he interrupted Jane while she was sharing about her front row seats at the latest game. No matter what the context is, even if it’s not a subject that comes as easily as football, it’s important to ask a variety of questions, give space for the other person (or people) to respond, and allow each person to take a turn.
4. Sees Value in all Forms of Communication:
This trait helps discriminate between spoken words and words as intended by separating fact from fiction and uses verbal and nonverbal clues to search for meaning. This is often challenging. It means not taking everything someone says literally all of the time. For example: if Dan was giving a lecture on the danger of children under the age of 15 playing football, and Jane was crinkling her eyebrows, or looking completely dumbfounded with her eyes bulging with anger but said, “oh yeah, I totally agree”, when asked, Dan could take her words literally, or, he could question her nonverbal cues, which reflect her own experience of her two sons who have been playing football since they were 4 and now they have a scholarship to college as a result.
5. Interprets to Gain Understanding:
Separates main from supporting points and follows a sequence of ideas/messages/instructions to draw insightful inferences. This point is important because it integrates many tools into one. It looks at all of the pieces, the nonverbal cues, the tone of voice, the enthusiasm with which someone speaks, and the literal words, and the individual with this skill has the ability to prioritize each method of communication in effort to gain the most information an insight.
6. Evaluates Credibility:
Questions unfounded assumptions and recognizes emotions from self, speaker, or messages are barriers to listening. Everyone speaks and communicates from the lens of their own personal experiences, as seen in the example of Dan and Jane above. Having this awareness is important because it brings forward the value of not making assumptions. What Dan might see as an invitation to injury sending 4 year old kids out onto the field to play football, Jane might see as the key to their future. Each experience has the potential to cloud one’s ability to listen fully without assumed understanding.
7. Follows Through on Interaction:
Gives feedback, paraphrases what was said, and identifies next steps. If Dan ignored Jane’s facial expressions, and just took her words literally, he would miss a key opportunity to understand Jane’s perspective, which could cloud her perception of him as a leader. If instead, he pulled her aside after the lecture, and mentioned that even though she said she agreed with him on all points, he was curious about the look of shock on her face, and gave her an invitation to share what she was really thinking (if it was different than what she said) either in that moment or at another time. Opening the door to allow for honest feedback, and following through on important conversations is key to having the qualities of a skilled listener.
Don’t Forget the Listening Platinum Rule:
Even though those 7 traits of a proficient listener are important, it’s important to remember the platinum rule of listening: Listen to others as they want to be heard.
Now that you’ve heard what we consider qualities of a skilled listener, what additional traits would you add? Please share with us in a comment below.