Skype, Snapchat, Slack, Messenger — the list of platforms by which we can use for communication with one another seems almost endless. New ones appear regularly, initially bewildering the unsuspecting parents of teenagers, and then seep out into the wider social and business communities.
Anyone can see that this is the communication age. It is a phrase that is thrown around like confetti and, if you believe the hype, people are communicating like never before, publishing their every thought for the elucidation of their peers via blogs, tweets and Facebook updates. In businesses, employees receive a constant stream of communication from management, HR and various other parties, keeping them updated on a whole range of news that is relevant to the company and their roles.
If you are detecting a tinge of cynicism about the benefits of all this communication, then you are already doing better than many, as you are actually taking in and critically considering what is being communicated to you. The biggest problem with the communication age is that the word communication is increasingly seen as the concept of putting your point across, the imposition of your opinion on the outside world. Yet, what is the point in doing so if nobody has the time, ability or inclination to really listen?
Here, we take a look at the importance of being a good listener, and how you can improve your listening skills to become a better communicator and a stronger manager. So, if you are listening, we will proceed.
There is an oft-quoted statistic that 93 per cent of communication is actually non-verbal. This comes from research carried out by Dr Albert Mehrabian back in the early 1970s, published in his book Silent Messages. Mehrabian contended that 55 per cent of communication was made up of body language and 38 per cent was transmitted by intonation. That leaves just seven per cent for the actual words themselves.
While the numbers might be open to debate, the point is that it is immensely important to pay attention not only to what is being said, but how. Intuitively, this sounds right. We have all found ourselves in the embarrassing situation where somebody has taken offence at an off the cuff comment by SMS or email that has been interpreted in completely the wrong way because it lacked those all-important non-verbal cues.
This is where active listening is so important in face-to-face communication. Not only does it mean that, as a manager, you can gain a better understanding of what is being said to you, it also leads to increased trust, confidence and workplace morale. Let’s take a look at a few techniques that will help you become an active listener.
Everyone has their own way of speaking, and for some, it means going all round the houses before they come to the point. It can be difficult and frustrating waiting for them to do so as a listener, and it is only too easy to try to help them along.
In the end, though, this can lead to you finishing their sentences for them, drawing conclusions from what has only been half-said and, ultimately, making your own point rather than allowing them to make theirs.
Keeping to the point
Modern business is fast-moving and hectic. We are all becoming experts at juggling multiple balls at the same time. In a business meeting, it is easy to go off on a tangent as a keyword triggers a synapse in your brain. Try to spot when this happens and hold the thought till later. Otherwise, you will stray from the point that the speaker was attempting to make and probably will never get back to it again.
How many times have you sat across a desk from someone and tried to discuss an important point while their eyes periodically flick in your direction from behind the laptop? Or perhaps they appear to be more interested in what is happening on their phone than in what you are saying.
Most likely, you felt annoyed, frustrated and disrespected — but be honest with yourself, and you will probably be forced to admit that you have done the same thing yourself, either at home or at work.
We are all busy, but if you are having a conversation with somebody, close the laptop, put away the phone, switch off the television, look them in the eye and listen.
Confirmation and encouragement
As we mentioned earlier, some people struggle to get to the point and others need a little work to draw them out. There are ways that you can help them along, without simply doing the talking for them. Looking them in the eye and showing that you are listening (and not fiddling with your phone) is a great start, but you can also give small verbal cues. A simple “Ah-ha” or “Go on” shows you are paying attention and encourages them to continue or expand their point.
When they have said what they want to say, a very useful technique is to briefly reiterate or recap the main points of what you have been told. Not only does this reinforce and make sure you have got the point, it also gives the speaker the comfort of knowing you have really been paying attention to them.
Better listener = better manager
There is more noise out there in the digital world than ever before, but while we are getting better and better at creating it, the ability to effectively interpret it is becoming something of a lost art. By developing your active listening skills, you can make a real impact on improving workplace efficiency by simply having a better handle on what is going on around you.
But even more importantly, you can enhance the way your colleagues and employees feel about their business interactions, making you a better manager and leading to a more motivated and productive workplace.
So let’s all remember both sides of the communication equation and work to become better listeners.