Your undivided attention – five steps to active listening

By Steve Gilman

When is the last time you gave a customer or client your undivided attention?

One of our most crucial professional skills is the ability to listen. And it seems like so many people don’t know how to listen anymore.  Maybe it’s a symptom of our hyper twittering world. Or, maybe many of us never really learned how to actively listen in the first place.  I’ve always believed that one of the most important skills for a business person to master is the skill of active listening.

While it’s not simple to become an active listener and it won’t happen overnight, there are steps you can take immediately that will help you to improve, I’ve included some below.  But remember, active listening is a commitment, not a parlor trick. You must have the honest desire to both hear and understand the people whom you serve.

  1. Maintain your focus.  Make and maintain eye contact. Remove distractions, turn off computer monitors or your cell phone, do not read text messages or email.  Giving another person your full attention sends a powerful message. Use language that shows your interest and concern, try phrases such as “I’ve been thinking about what we talked about yesterday”, or “I think the point you had was interesting because”
  2. Commit to stop talking. Many people are so focused on what they’re about say that they completely miss what a client or customer is trying to communicate. So do your best to quiet your mind, open your ears and try to truly listen to what your client is saying. Committed listening requires the ability to put your agenda aside and focus on meeting the needs of your customer.
  3. Become a positive mirror.   Practice rephrasing or restating. Try this phrase, “What I hear you saying is”, Then reflect back a brief summary of what you’ve heard. Frame or reframe to build perspective “I see some key themes here” or, “One way we could look at this could be” Reframing requires you to use your intuition and creative insights to take small positive emotional leaps.
  4. Walk in their shoes. Practice empathy while you listen, by putting yourself in the place of the other person.  Imagine how they might feel about their experience, their colleagues and the topic you are discussing.  Frequently remind yourself to examine the situation from your customer or client’s perspective.  Try phrases like “That must have been frustrating for you because” or “I imagine you just wanted to”
  5. Listen to the body. Non-verbal communication is all around you. There is a great deal of valuable information in facial expressions, body movements and other unconscious behaviors.  It’s a big subject that goes far beyond the folded arms stereotype and there is way too much to cover effectively in this post.  For a good resource on nonverbal communication, I recommend the book  “Louder Than Words” by Joe Navarro. http://amzn.to/96bvqR

Try these five tips and be patient with your progress, active listening can be challenging but one thing is for sure, improving your listening skills will have a positive effect on every business relationship you have.

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