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Published on May 28, 2020

7 Keys to Effective Listening

7 Keys to Effective Listening

You hear all the time how important effective communication is. It’s critically important in your career and the same holds true for marriage or any long term partnership.

If you’ve read any of my other articles on this website, you’ll know I am a huge proponent of strong communication skills. I have seen over and over again how clear and effective communication has helped people in many phases of their lives.

Here is something that so many of us forget: listening is half of all communication.

It’s great to be able to articulate your thoughts and ideas clearly, but it’s just as important to have effective listening skills.

Let’s take a look at how important effective listening is and along the way, I’ll share with you 7 keys to effective listening. Read on to learn how to become a powerful listener.

Why Listening Skills Are Important

Unfortunately, many of us can only listen just long enough to form our own responses to what is being said, then we stop listening.

Why is that? Because we have all the information we need to share our own opinion. Needless to say, this isn’t effective listening, not by a long shot. Listening skills are vital in communication.

Deep down one of our greatest pleasures is feeling understood by another person. We can’t feel truly understood by another person unless we feel they are really listening to us. But once we feel that they are, it allows us to open up and share what we want to.

We can do this because the sense of someone seriously listening to us makes us trust the other person. I don’t have to tell you how much trust can help strengthen a relationship – it’s critically important. When you combine the listening with a nice dose of empathy, it creates an even stronger bond.

Being an effective listener also benefits the listener. When we take the time to truly understand the other person, it allows us to gain a deeper understanding of what is being said and where the other person is coming from.

We’ve already discussed how the person speaking will feel better understood and want to trust us. This in and of itself helps us gain an ally and better partner, whether it’s in a personal or a business relationship.

But there’s even more upside to being a great listener. We learn more and open up our horizons.

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It’s too easy to get trapped inside our little world and look at things through our own lens of the world. But when we listen to another person, we can learn something new and sometimes, see the world through a new set of eyes. How cool is that?

What Makes a Good Listener?

Now that we know why listening skills are so important, let’s take a look at what makes a good listener.

We all know how easy it is to pay partial attention to what someone is saying. This happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s the simple ongoing chatter inside our heads. Other times we are distracted thinking about another topic entirely. And sometimes we feel we’ve heard enough from the speaker to form our own response, so we are just waiting for them to take a break so we can get our 2 cents in. This isn’t being a very good listener.

Besides showing some of the keys to effective listening below, good listeners, in general, tend to be empathetic and listen with an open mind. They don’t allow their preformed opinions to color what they are hearing.

Good listeners are usually emotionally intelligent, so they are not only aware of their feelings but also perceptive of how others feel. They usually do a good job of asking follow-up questions – another good sign that they are listening.

They ask these questions as a way of gaining a deeper understanding of others. A good listener is okay with being uncomfortable. They can allow silence to go on while the other person thinks about what they are going to say and don’t get defensive. These are some of the traits of a good listener.

What Is Effective Listening?

Effective listening skills allow us to actively understand the information provided by the person speaking. Effective listening also has to do with showing a genuine interest in the topic being discussed.

Many times, it also includes providing the speaker with input and feedback along the way, as well as asking thought-provoking, insightful questions to gain a full understanding of the subject. Asking these incisive questions also shows the speaker that the listener truly understands what is being said and can empathize with the speaker.

Sounds like powerful stuff right? Read on for some of the benefits of effective listening.

What Are the Benefits of Effective Listening?

Effective listening will reward all parties involved in many ways, here are a few.

Effective Listening Builds Trust

This is probably the most important benefit of effective listening.

Remember, when someone feels like they are truly being listened to and understood, it’s only natural for them to begin to develop trust for the person listening. Or if the relationship already has a basis of trust, it only serves to strengthen it.

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Productivity Goes Up

This is key in the workplace. Just think about how much more productive you could be in your job if there was all-around clear communication. That alone would help it shoot through the roof!

Add in working with a group of folks who are effectively listening and understanding each other and you’ve got a recipe for super productivity.

Better Relationships

It almost goes without saying that if you are communicating with effective listeners regularly, it will forge stronger relationships. Again, the ability to feel like you are being truly heard and understood creates tighter and more meaningful relationships.

Greater Problem Solving

Remember that old saying two heads are better than one? What that means is that most of the time, 2 people can solve a problem better than one person on their own.

The logic is simple: two people can look at the same problem or challenge from different angles, different sets of eyes, and different experiences from which to draw on. When people are listening and understanding each other, the ability to solve problems is greatly enhanced.

Now let’s get to the really good part – 7 keys to effective listening.

7 Keys to Effective Listening

1. Be Attentive and Relaxed

Probably the most important part of effective listening is being attentive. Be present and at the moment with the person you are listening to.

Follow along with the words and thoughts they are sharing to build the full picture. Do your best to block out distractions, whether that’s street noise or your internal thoughts.

You don’t want to be attentive to the point of staring unblinkingly and not moving at the person while they are speaking. That can get unnerving. You want to temper your attentiveness with being relaxed as well. This will help the other person feel more at ease.

And speaking of staring unblinkingly at the other person. . .

2. Maintain Eye Contact and Face the Other Person

You’ll want to keep regular eye contact with the person speaking and have your body facing towards them.

Again, the regular eye contact doesn’t mean you are staring directly at them without batting an eyelid for minutes on end. It means, in general, you are keeping your eyes focused on them and their eyes.

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You don’t want your eyes darting to your phone or your computer screen. That takes away your attention.

You’ll also want to have your body facing the other person most of the time. It’s a non-verbal way of communicating that you are paying attention to and listening to them.

3. Listen and Paint a Picture

While you are listening attentively, allow your mind to paint a mental picture of what is being said. This could be a literal picture in your mind or it may be more abstract involving concepts and ideas.

When you combine listening attentively with your mind creating a mental picture, it will help you gain greater clarity around what is being said, as well as build a more lasting impression in your mind.

4. Do Not Interrupt

One of the surest ways to create choppy communication is by interrupting.

Think about when you’ve been in a verbal fight with someone and you both keep interrupting each other to get your point across. Nobody ever gets to fully vocalize about what is upsetting them.

The same concept holds true here. Don’t interrupt the other person while they are talking. It conveys the message that you don’t care what they are saying and that you think what you have to say is more important than what they have to say.

Speaking of having your turn to talk. . .

5. Ask Questions to Clarify and Understand

When the person you are talking to stops talking and indicates you can take a turn, you want to use your words to good effect. The goal here is to ask clarifying questions that will help you understand fully what the other person is saying.

Again, wait until the other person stops talking before asking your questions. Do not interrupt them to inject your point of view or ask off-topic questions. Asking tangential type questions can easily take the conversation down a completely different path.

We see this happen all the time during everyday conversations. Someone is telling us about an adventure they went on and mentions a restaurant they went to. Someone else then asks a question about that restaurant and BOOM, the conversation turns to a discussion of restaurants.

Don’t be that person.

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6. Keep an Open Mind

Another of the 7 keys to effective listening is to keep an open mind. It’s important to listen with an impartial mind and not mentally judge the person speaking to you.

To truly hear someone and to give them a chance to fully share what they are talking about, you must keep an open mind. If they say something that gives you pause or raises some concerns, keep it to yourself for the time being.

Now is not the time to be forming judgments or making assumptions based on what is being said. Keep your mind open to allow them to speak freely and for you to listen fully.

7. Try to Feel What the Other Person is Feeling

Now we get to the part where you are working to empathize with the speaker. Do your best to put yourself in their shoes and see the situation from their vantage point.

To get a good depth of understanding, you’ll need to do your best to put yourself in as close to a mindset as the other person is. This isn’t easy, and it does take work.

If you’ve gotten to the point where you are feeling happy when they seem to be happy or sad when they are, you’ve done a great job of really understanding what they are telling you to the point of feeling similar.

Conclusion

As a reminder, listening is half of all communication.

Being a good listener takes practice and some work, but it’s well worth it. You’ll gain greater clarity with your interactions with other people you interact with. This benefits both your professional and personal life.

Imagine having clear communication with the people in all areas of your life. Sounds great, right?

Be sure to use these 7 keys to effective listening to greatly improve your communication and relationships with others.

More Effective Listening Tips

Featured photo credit: Mimi Thian via unsplash.com

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Mat Apodaca

On a mission to share about how communication in the workplace and personal relationships plays a large role in your happiness

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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How Relationships Building Helps Achieve Career Success

How Relationships Building Helps Achieve Career Success

As playwright Wilson Mizner supposedly said all the way back in the 1930s,

“Be kind to everyone on the way up; you will meet the same people on the way down.”

The adage is the perfect prototype for relationship building in 2020, although we may want to expand Mizner’s definition of “kind” to include being helpful, respectful, grateful, and above all, crediting your colleagues along the way.

5 Ways to Switch on Your Relationship Building Magnetism

Relationship building does not come easily to all. Today’s computer culture makes us more insular and less likely to reach out—not to mention our new work-from-home situation in which we are only able to interact virtually. Still, relationship building remains an important part of career engagement and success, and it gets better with practice.

Here are five ways you can strengthen your relationships:

1. Advocate for Other’s Ideas

Take the initiative to speak up in support of other team members’ good ideas. Doing so lets others know that the team’s success takes precedence over your needs for personal success. Get behind any colleague’s innovative approach or clever solution and offer whatever help you can give to see it through. Teammates will value your vote of confidence and your support.

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2. Show Compassion

If you learn that someone whom you work with has encountered difficult times, reach out. If it’s not someone you know well, a hand-written card expressing your sympathy and hopes for better times ahead could be an initial gesture. If it’s someone with whom you interact regularly, the act could involve offering to take on some of the person’s work to provide a needed reprieve or even bringing in a home-cooked dish as a way to offer comfort. The show of compassion will not go unnoticed, and your relationship building will have found a foothold.

3. Communicate Regularly

Make an effort to share any information with team members that will help them do their jobs more effectively. Keeping people in the loop says a lot about your consideration for what others need to deliver their best results.

Try to discover the preferred mode of communication for each team member. Some people are fine relying on emails; others like to have a phone conversation. And once we can finally return to working together in offices, you may determine that face-to-face updates may be most advantageous for some members.

4. Ask for Feedback

Showing your willingness to reach out for advice and guidance will make a positive impression on your boss. When you make it clear that you welcome and can accept pointers, you display candor and trust in what opinions your superior has to offer. Your proclivity towards considering ways of improving your performance and strengthening any working interactions will signal your strong relationship skills.

If you are in a work environment where you are asked to give feedback, be generous and compassionate. That does not mean being wishy-washy. Try always to give the type of feedback that you wouldn’t mind receiving.

5. Give Credit Where It’s Due

Be the worker who remembers to credit staffers with their contributions. It’s a surprisingly rare talent to credit others, but when you do so, they will remember to credit you, and the collective credit your team will accrue will be well worth the effort.

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How Does Relationship Building Build Careers?

Once you have strengthened and deepened your relationships, here are some of the great benefits:

Work Doesn’t Feel So Much Like Work

According to a Gallup poll, when you have a best friend at work, you are more likely to feel engaged with your job. Work is more fun when you have positive, productive relationships with your colleagues. Instead of spending time and energy overcoming difficult personalities, you can spend time enjoying the camaraderie with colleagues as you work congenially on projects together. When your coworkers are your friends, time goes by quickly and challenges don’t weigh as heavily.

You Can Find Good Help

It’s easier to ask for assistance when you have a good working relationship with a colleague. And with office tasks changing at the speed of technology, chances are that you are going to need some help acclimating—especially now that work has gone remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much of relationship building rests on your genuine expressions of appreciation toward others. Showing gratitude for another’s help or for their willingness to put in the extra effort will let them know you value them.

Mentors Come Out of the Woodwork

Mentors are proven to advance your professional and career development. A mentor can help you navigate how to approach your work and keep you apprised of industry trends. They have a plethora of experience to draw from that can be invaluable when advising you on achieving career success and advancement.

Mentors flock to those who are skilled at relationship building. So, work on your relationships and keep your eyes peeled for a worthy mentor.

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You Pull Together as a Team

Great teamwork starts with having an “abundance mentality” rather than a scarcity mentality. Too often, workers view all projects through a scarcity mentality lens. This leads to office strife as coworkers compete for their piece of the pie. But in an abundance mentality mode, you focus on the strengths that others bring rather than the possibility that they are potential competitors.

Instead, you can commit relationship building efforts to ensure a positive work environment rather than an adversarial one. When you let others know that you intend to support their efforts and contribute to their success, they will respond in kind. Go, team!

Your Network Expands and So Does Your Paycheck

Expand your relationship building scope beyond your coworkers to include customers, suppliers, and other industry stakeholders. Your extra efforts can lead to extra sales, a more rewarding career, and even speedy professional advancement. And don’t overlook the importance of building warm relationships with assistants, receptionists, or even interns.

Take care to build bridges, not just to your boss and your boss’s boss but with those that work under you as well. You may find that someone who you wouldn’t expect will put in a good word for you with your supervisor.

Building and maintaining good working relationships with everyone you come in contact with can pay off in unforeseen ways. You never know when that underling will turn out to be the company’s “golden child.” Six years from now you may be turning to them for a job. If you have built up a good, trusting work relationship with others along your way, you will more likely be considered for positions that any of these people may be looking to fill.

Your Job Won’t Stress You Out

Study shows that some 83 percent of American workers experience work-related stress.[1] Granted, some of that stress is now likely caused by the new pandemic-triggered workplace adjustments, yet bosses and management, in general, are reportedly the predominant source of stress for more than one-third of workers.

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Having meaningful connections among coworkers is the best way to make work less stressful. Whether it is having others whom to commiserate with, bounce ideas off, or bring out your best performance, friendships strengthen the group’s esprit de corps and lower the stress level of your job.

Your Career Shines Bright

Who would you feel better about approaching to provide a recommendation or ask for promotion: a cold, aloof boss with whom you have only an impersonal relationship or one that knows you as a person and with whom you have built a warm, trusting relationship?

Your career advancement will always excel when you have a mutual bond of friendship and appreciation with those who can recommend you. Consider the plug you could receive from a supervisor who knows you as a friend versus one who remains detached and only notices you in terms of your ability to meet deadlines or attain goals.

When people fully know your skills, strengths, personality, and aspirations, you have promoters who will sing your praises with any opportunity for advancement.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, it is “who you know” not “what you know.” When you build relationships, you build a pipeline of colleagues, work partners, team members, current bosses, and former bosses who want to help you—who want to see you succeed.

At its core, every business is a people business. Making a point to take the small but meaningful actions that build the foundation of a good relationship can be instrumental in cultivating better relationships at work.

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Featured photo credit: Adam Winger via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The American Institute of Stress: 42 Worrying Workplace Stress Statistics

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