Stop Hearing—Start Listening!

Your ability to listen may be the difference between keeping or losing a valued customer, engaging or alienating an employee, or capturing or losing new business. Here are a few tips on how to become a better listener.

Focus on the Speaker
Stop what you’re doing, face the speaker, and make eye contact. When you acknowledge your customer, business contact, or employee, you show the speaker that you’re interested in hearing what she or he has to say. Don’t interrupt; hold that really good point you want to make until the speaker is finished.

Empathize and Accept
“Walk a mile” in the speaker’s shoes. Make an effort to understand the speaker’s feelings as well as the facts. Avoid verbal and non-verbal expressions of disagreement. Too many questions may lead the speaker to feel badgered, while restating what’s been said can affirm you hear and understand the speaker.

Be Observant and Be Aware
Remember that not all information is verbal. Watch the speaker’s expressions, gestures, and other nonverbal cues. Be aware of your body posture as well—remember that crossed arms may feel comfortable to you, but may look like you are putting up defenses from another’s point of view. On the other hand, nodding your head can be a great way to say, “I’m listening.”

Be Candid
Often, the easiest way you can get others to open up is to be honest and open yourself. Throwing your sword and shield away can lead to a more open, problem-solving dialogue. Talk about your observations, perceptions, and feelings in a direct, concrete, non-threatening manner.

Tailor Your Response to the Situation
When in doubt, listen. When asked to respond, respond thoughtfully. The more you listen, the more you’ll actually hear, and the more effective your conversation will be. Taking the time to listen can go a long way towards handling irate customers or frustrated employees and may help you to avoid those stressful situations in the first place.

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