Author: Shilpa Vir
Effective communication is a crucial skill that every professional must master to succeed in their career. As a young woman starting out in my profession, I was eager to make my mark, establish myself as a thought leader and be able to influence others. I devoured books and online resources on how to "find my voice," "speak up," and "communicate clearly."
And for a while, I felt like I was making progress. Until I had a particularly heated meeting where I butted heads with a colleague about the direction of our product while the remaining team watched, clearly scared of getting in the middle. The meeting went nowhere and left me feeling frustrated and stuck.
I discussed the meeting with my mentor, asking how to make my colleague “listen to me”. He said “listen to him first”. What? No, no no! I needed to communicate MY brilliant idea. His reply was, “I bet he’s thinking the exact same thing.”
It was then that I realized that I had been focusing too much on expressing myself and not enough on listening to others and that listening is an essential component of effective communication. As the famous quote by Harvey Mackay goes, "Two monologues do not make a dialogue."
When we listen, we best connect with people, solve problems, and truly understand our audience’s needs. This all leads to better relationships and business outcomes.
- Listening to others shows them that we value their opinions and that we are interested in what they have to say. This in turn, fosters trust and respect, two essential ingredients for influence.
- Listening helps us discover insights, gain new perspectives, and broaden our knowledge. By being open to hearing different viewpoints, we can broaden our understanding of issues, which can lead to better decision-making and problem-solving.
- Listening to others helps you refine your ideas. When someone pushes back on our ideas and we truly listen instead of listening to respond, we can discover constraints and weaknesses of our initial ideas and work to improve them, leading to better products, services and business results.
- Listening demonstrates humility and a willingness to learn. When we are seen as someone who is willing to listen to good counsel, others are more likely to offer valuable advice or help out.
- Listening helps us avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. By actively listening to others, we can ensure that we're on the same page and avoid miscommunication that can lead to disagreements and tension in the workplace.
If you want to be more influential in the workplace, start by listening more. I would be the first to admit that it is hard. Not only was I an ineffective listener, but I also used to interrupt people mid-sentence to respond (rude!!!). It has taken me deliberate and continuous effort to be a better listener and I am happy to share my tips and tactics to help you listen more than speak:
- Be present. One of the most important things we can do is to be fully present when someone is speaking to us. Avoid distractions such as checking our phones or looking around the room, and focus all our attention on the person speaking. Make eye contact, nod your head, and lean in slightly to show that you are listening.
- Don't interrupt. Let the speaker finish what they have to say before you respond. Don't rush the speaker or try to finish their sentences for them. This could be hard for some, but be patient. Breathe when you are tempted to interject.
- Ask “what” and “how” questions to learn more. This shows that you are interested in what the speaker has to say and that you are trying to understand their point of view.
- Ask open-ended questions to encourage the speaker to share more information and perspectives. This can help us gain a better understanding of the topic and show the speaker that we're interested in their thoughts and ideas.
- Summarize what you have heard. This shows that you have been listening and that you understand what the speaker has said.
- Be respectful. Even if you disagree with the speaker, be respectful of their opinion. Separate the idea / proposal / data / argument / opinion being discussed from the speaker and do not make any personal comments.
Remember, listening is an active process that takes effort and attention, but if you are willing to put in the effort, it can be a powerful tool for communication and understanding. So, if you want to be more influential in your workplace, start by listening more and truly engaging in a dialogue.