Multi-tasking is so much more than a skill in our society–its basic survival. We often have so many things on the go that we need to be able to focus on more than one task at any given time. If you’re on your computer, for example, you can jump between two different projects with ease. But there is one situation when multi-tasking severely weakens your ability to do your job.
We’ve all done it–multi-tasked while someone is talking to us. Taking phone calls or texting during meetings; typing emails while on conference calls; letting our mind wander to other tasks when in conversation. It’s understandable, but it’s a habit that needs to be conquered. Listening is an essential leadership skill, and the quality of our listening must be developed and improved. To properly listen is to fully receive, explore, consider, and comprehend what someone is saying to us. In many cultures, listening is considered to be a more vital skill than speaking.
Much of the communication in today’s world just scratches the surface of what’s actually being said. If you aren’t fully engaged in a conversation, you might hear the speaker’s words, but miss the non-verbal cues and the emotion behind their voice. We need to listen with our gut, not just our head. Surface-level communication can lead to situations where employees don’t properly understand directives, or where leaders might not actually hear their employees’ difficulties. Deeper listening on both sides, however, can ease communications and help facilitate deeper understanding.
Steps to Strengthen Listening Skills
- Know the WHY of the conversation. What is it that we want from a conversation or meeting? What does the other person want? Is it to learn something new? To build a new connection? To help solve something? Stay open to what they’re saying and let go of preconceived notions or opinions. Don’t be judgmental or critical. Be neutral, stay curious, and be connected to your intention to keep both the conversation and your mind on-track and fully engaged.
- Learn to focus your attention. Have you ever seen the Chinese character for ‘Listening’?
It is made up of five key elements:
- Ear – What you use to listen.
- King – Pay attention to the other person as if they were a king
- Ten and eyes – Observe like you have 10 eyes
- One – Listen with singular attention and focus
- Heart – Feel the emotion of what the other person is saying
How much effort do we put into all of those aspects of listening at work? What about outside of work?
- Partnering takes more than one person. In a conversation, when we advise, lecture, or state our opinion, we’re not listening. Partnering means that we check-in with the other person and rephrase what they have said to get more details. “I heard you say this. What does that mean to you?” If someone approaches you with an issue, ask permission before jumping to what you think is the solution to their problem. Partnering is a bit like dancing–you follow each other, one role is no more important than the other, there is give and take.
Deepening our ability to listen to ourselves, our world, and to each other is one of the greatest gifts we can offer. By learning to properly listen to others, you deepen your own ability to communicate. If you truly understand what someone is saying, your response to them will be informed, engaged, and helpful. Conversations like that can create long-lasting relationships, form strong partnerships, and create a positive work environment in which everyone feels comfortable.