Be the active listener people deserve — Issue #15
If there is one thing we do in this digital age with ever evolving ways of working is talk a lot. Whether it’s building insights, ideating solutions or discussing strategy. However, our attentions is also much more divided and there is a lot we can learn from Research Professionals on how to actively listen to the people we are communicating with.
Imagine the scenario of a regular conversation between two or more people. Both will add their point and hopefully build up the topic into an enriching interaction.
- One of the participants is very boring to listen to, either with their droning voice or uninteresting content. We begin to zone out and think about other topics, or count down the time to the end.
- One participant introduces their opinion or experience. We often listen to only a part of what the first participants said, focusing more on where we can add our point of view/experience and make the conversation more about us.
- We get alerts, notifications, sms etc. which constantly pull our attention away from the conversation happening in front us.
- We get so excited that we bombard the other person with questions and don’t give them the space to answer. Or our questions force/guide their answers.
In all of the options above, we’re only half listening, which means we don’t really absorb all that is being said and thus can’t really build on ideas properly or extract insight.
Beyond that, it’s just plain rude.
How can we be better listeners? I’ll share some things that have worked for me. I also strongly suggest reading the books below if you want to really take your listening game to the next level.
Getting better at listening
Here is a list of the main ways I’ve found to help me be a more active listener, bit it doesn’t come easy. We need to build up the habits and establish a “conversation” mode for ourselves:
- Remove distractions — Turn off the notifications on your phone and computer. Shut off slack. Make a point of blocking yourself out from the outside world while having the conversation.
- Don’t interrupt — This is probably one of the hardest on this list. We want to jump in and add our opinion. We want to share our experience in the right context or before we forget. But by interrupting the other person, we’re stopping their train of thought and potentially stopping their story at the wrong time. Scribble a note on a paper or notebook so you don’t forget and come back to it later. Even if you want to deep dive, let the speaker finish their story and then go back and deep dive.
- Take notes — Very few people can effectively take notes while talking to a person, but jotting down thoughts or ideas is always a good idea (see point 2). Equally, if you’re running an interview, make sure that someone goes along with you to take notes, that way you are free to focus on the discussion.
- Really listen to what they are saying — Make an effort to avoid letting your mind wonder off on thoughts or ideas. Listen to what the person is saying and try to really understand their point of view and how they describe the situation. You will find that you uncover insights you could have easily ignored.
- Don’t make assumptions — We often make many assumptions of what the other person is saying based on our own experience and background. Our perceptions may be completely different based on experience, upbringing and culture. It’s ok to ask if a person could explain what they mean when saying something like “We work in an Agile way…”. You’ll often find it may vary greatly from how you see Agile.
- Let them guide the conversation — We may have a specific objective for a conversation or interview. We know what we want to answer and what we want to discover. However, we shouldn’t influence the conversation or answers to our question, or the discussion becomes invalid. We want them to tell us the truth that will give us insights, not the truth that will confirm our assumptions. We have to be ready to accept that our assumptions were completely incorrect.
- Be careful with “Yes/No” and “Why” — Closed questions that receive Yes or No answers generally don’t give us any insight whatsoever. We should always aim to ask open questions and extract stories from the other person. Equally, asking someone “Why?” could be perceived as a judgment or attack on someone’s choice. Changing a question from “Why did you…” to something like “Could you help us better understand your reasoning behind…”.
There is so much more to being an active listener and I myself am always learning and evolving my practices.
Practice makes perfect and also admitting to yourself when you’ve done a terrible job is important. Don’t sugar coat it.
You owe it to others to be a more active listener. You’ll feel people open up more easily and you start discovery more interesting insights and some incredible stories.
Books to improve you active listening
Originally published at https://www.getrevue.co on April 27, 2022.