By Meagan Sweigart
This post is the first in a series providing best practices for becoming a trusted advisor.
In today’s fast-paced, technology-saturated corporate environment, listening is at a premium. Throughout our busy workdays, we find every possible opportunity to multi-task – we bring laptops to meetings to finish deliverables, use the mute button to hold side conversations on conference calls, and compulsively check our phones at all hours to stay connected. Each of these behaviors negatively affects our ability to listen effectively.
Active and purposeful listening can increase our emotional intelligence (EQ) and improve our ability to manage relationships with clients, peers, and personal contacts. If you struggle to pay attention during meetings or conversations, try making these five simple but powerful changes throughout your workday to become a better listener.
Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment. A regular mindfulness practice will enable you to tune out distracting thoughts and concerns during a conversation and focus on listening. Allow yourself six seconds to take a deep breath and focus on the present moment before entering a meeting so that you can clear your mind and focus on the discussion ahead.
Active listening improves our ability to concentrate on a conversation because it requires our participation. During a conversation with a client or colleague, ask questions to engage him and increase your knowledge on the subject being discussed. Use verbal and visual cues to indicate your interest in what he has to say, and summarize his main points before responding to ensure you have an accurate understanding.
Empathy instills trust and helps foster a more positive relationship. When a client or colleague is sharing an idea or voicing a concern, consider her perspective, thoughts, and motives. Why does this topic matter to her? How would you feel if you were in her position? Taking a few moments during a conversation to evaluate the perspective of the other party will improve your ability to listen and draw conclusions about the significance of the conversation, setting the tone for future interactions.
We often forget to listen because we are focused on what we plan to say next. This habit feeds our impulse to interrupt the other party in the interest of expressing our own opinions. Instead of interrupting your colleague or client, consider writing a quick note to remind yourself of the point you plan to make after he has finished talking. This practice will allow you to put aside your own thoughts and focus on listening.
Following up after a conversation with a client or colleague is both a powerful way to indicate your interest and a tool for holding yourself accountable. If you enter a conversation with the intention of gathering enough information to be able to craft a thoughtful response in the form of an email or second conversation, you are more likely to actively listen and pay attention throughout the course of the discussion.
At PDR, our Business Transition consulting practice establishes strategic partnerships with clients to address the challenges brought on by organizational and workplace change. Our experience guiding executives, managers, and employees through complex transitions has enabled us to develop expertise in becoming trusted advisors for companies across a variety of industries. Active and purposeful listening builds trust and strengthens communication to develop strong relationships and partnerships.
If you are part of the “98% of people who have never received formal training on how to listen” (getinfrontcommunications.com), we encourage you to implement these five changes as you interact with clients and peers.
Are you a good listener? How do you tune into a conversation and minimize distractions?
Meagan is a consultant who specializes in Communications Strategies and Change Management. She supports companies undergoing corporate change projects with innovative, multi-faceted communications and media solutions. Meagan is passionate about building strong client relationships as a trusted advisor.