It’s been said that you have more ability to influence others by listening than speaking. The Journal of Research in Personalities notes that “those who listen well may reap both information and relational benefits that make them more influential.”
Impactful listening is more than just “hearing.” It’s actively absorbing what someone says, showing you’re interested in what they’re saying, and providing feedback that leads to growth. Listening is a skill that requires development, just like any other skill.
Impactful listeners do several things to demonstrate they’re listening. These techniques allow them to gather more information, provide better guidance and show others that their voices are valued. Take a moment to read through the techniques below, identify which skills you could work to improve, and set some listening goals for yourself moving forward.
1. Ensure Psychological Safety
Remind yourself to speak human to human and ensure everyone knows it’s okay to speak openly. Embrace that the person you’re listening to has beliefs, perspectives, and opinions, just like you do. Remember that the person has hopes, anxieties, and vulnerabilities, just like you do. And recognize that the person wants to feel appreciated, respected, and competent, just like you do.
2. Demonstrate Focus
Eliminate distractions by silencing your phone and putting it away, closing email, and if you’re in person, turning away from your computer to resist the urge to look at it. Those steps set the stage and let the person you’re listening to know you’re there to listen, even before you begin. If you feel it would be beneficial, suggest another place to talk without interruption.
In a virtual setting, remember to turn off distractions like email or cell phones. People can tell if you are texting or distracted, even when not face-to-face.
If you set aside 30 minutes for a conversation, make sure you spend those 30 minutes focused solely on what the other person needs from you. Avoid looking at your watch or the clock because that can immediately make people feel as though they are taking up too much of your time. Ensure they feel important and let them know their opinions matter.
3. Ask Questions And Mirror To Gain Understanding
Avoid formulating a response while the speaker is talking. While it’s tempting to have a ready comment as soon as they pause, challenge yourself to devote all your energy to listening and formulate a response as they conclude. Quiet the noise in your head and if your mind wanders, actively bring it back to what’s being shared.
Make sure you understand the substance of what is being shared with you as well. Mirroring, or reflecting, to the speaker what you’ve heard reinforces understanding. After the information has been shared, say something like, “If I understand you correctly, you feel as though we should change our reporting process. Do I have that right?”
Remember, you don’t need to solve everyone’s problems; sometimes, they just want to discuss things with you. Asking questions that lead to more details and information allows people to know they are understood.
4. Recognize Non-Verbal Cues
Experts report that approximately 70% of our communication is non-verbal. When you’re listening to someone remember to pay close attention to the non-verbal cues:
- Facial expressions: Is their expression showing they’re in agreement with you?
- Eye contact: Are they meeting or avoiding your glances?
- Gestures: How do they support the tone of the conversation?
- Focus: Are they distracted or engaged?
These cues can give you valuable insight into the speaker’s thoughts and feelings. It’s equally important to be mindful of the signals you’re sending through your body language as well.
5. Practice Empathy
The lens you’re looking through is different than the speaker’s lens. Take the time to “walk in someone’s shoes” and make an effort to truly understand where their opinions are coming from. Ask yourself three things:
- What is their perspective?
- What are their feelings?
- What are their experiences?
Use the insight you gain from your answers to empathize with the speaker’s point of view.
6. Allow Time for Silence
When you ask a question, allow the person you are speaking with to absorb, ponder, and process before they respond. Silence can be awkward, but it’s actually your friend. When you’re quiet, you can learn more as the other person feels the need to fill the void of air space. Allow 7 seconds of silence to let someone think or ponder an idea.
Why 7 seconds? 5 seconds is likely to cut someone’s idea off, but 10 seconds can become too much.
Silence will give you time to truly understand what others are saying while providing them time to think about their responses. If you don’t receive a response after 7 seconds, consider asking your question in another way.
7. Provide Meaningful Feedback That Leads To Problem-Solving
By the time you reach this level of Impactful Listening, you have earned the ability to add your own insight and provide information the speaker may find useful.
Although it may be instinctual to jump in to solve problems for people, and you may think that’s your job, it’s more effective to collaborate and brainstorm possible solutions together. When you’re sure you fully understand what someone is asking of you, then make contributions. Confirm that you understand what you’re hearing and introduce other ideas for consideration. Make sure you’re non-judgmental in your approach. Someone’s opinions, whether you agree with them or not, are still valid opinions.
If we listen carefully, we benefit from the information being shared with us, but we also gain valuable insight into the speaker. This allows us to better understand their objectives, beliefs, and attitudes.
Larry King famously said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” Identify the listening skills you can work on and make a commitment to yourself to improve them.