Active listening is an important communication skill to have not only in personal social interactions but also in business communication. If you are looking for better business outcomes such as increased profitability, more opportunities, and increased revenue then it’s time to listen up.
Let’s get into the active listening strategies in business communication.
When you’re engaged in conversation with a business associate, client or colleague you might feel tempted to interrupt them. Maybe the logic, albeit flawed, in doing so is that it feels participatory in that you’re picking up what they’re putting down. While it may feel that way to you, it certainly doesn’t feel that way to the speaker being interrupted. Avoid interrupting the person because they’ll lose their train of thought and it’s a surefire way to peeve them.
Don’t Finish Their Thought
While it might seem like a good idea at the moment, don’t do it. Most of the time they’re going to say something different from what you blurted out. And while it might be cute to do with your best friend, it’s anything but in business contexts. Hear the person out and hold your tongue. Let them say what they intend to.
Nod in Encouragement
One great way to encourage your speaker to continue talking is the triple nod. Nodding three times signals to the speaker that you’re engaged and are following them. This is especially useful when the speaker is soft spoken, shy, or in a role more junior to your own. If someone is indicating reticence, then the triple nod is a good one to use so that they’re encouraged to speak.
Ask clarifying questions
And because you’re not interrupting or finishing their thoughts you let the speaker share their piece and if anything stands out as uncertain in your mind you can rectify it by asking follow-up questions. While the person is speaking, keep note of potential questions and either jot those down on paper or keep them in the back of your mind so that you can ask your questions at the opportune moment. When’s the opportune moment? When the speaker has completed the thought. If the speaker is about to jump to another unrelated topic, then you could say “Before we move on, I’d like to clarify something” or “Let me just ask this, before continuing to the next item on the agenda.”
Show genuine interest
It goes without saying that speakers can sense the level of interest and engagement of their listeners. Feigning interest is never a good idea. So even if the topic or point is uninteresting to you, find a way to make it meaningful. This will cause you to summon the inner voice, leveraging your intrapersonal communication skills. Make it a point to find something that actually causes you to want to listen. And notice how I say “want” as opposed to “forced” to listen to. Find the hidden gem within what the person is saying or how they are saying it. And if still nothing comes up, then you can guide them by asking a pointed question. Maybe the person has 30 years of C suite experience and you are grooming yourself to be a C suite executive. You can guide the conversation in the direction of learning about their experience segueing into that position, taking the leap. And now, this is a topic you’re genuinely interested in, so you’re all ears.
When we lean in physically we demonstrate to the speaker that we’re here and paying attention. No one likes speaking to someone who’s disengaged, halfheartedly listening, and a one step removed from yawning. You lean in naturally when you really want to hear what the person is about to share. It’s a subconscious reaction on your part. But when you’re not necessarily interested in the topic and are still finding ways to make it more relevant to your life and business, you can actively lean in. Do this with your head, your upper body, and even moving yourself closer to the edge of your seat. As humans we’re highly perceptive of body language and we’re attuned to the small nuances. So leaning in is one of the best ways to notify the speaker that you’re actively listening.
In a tech-enabled, fast-paced world where distractions are plenty, focusing can be a challenge. Mindful listening is an antidote to distracted listening. To do this focus on three data points of the speaker’s communication. Pay attention to their nonverbal cues such as body language, facial expressions, eye movement, and micro expressions. Pay attention to their words and what word choice they’re partial to. And pay attention to their tone of voice, tonal spectrum, vocal range and intonation. These data points in symphony will shed light on what kind of communicator they are: auditory, visual, or kinesthetic. And when you’re analyzing all that, you have no other choice but to be present.
So we discussed 7 ways to improve your active listening skills in business settings. They are: avoiding interruptions, not getting tempted to finish their thought, triple nodding in encouragement, asking follow up questions, showing genuine interest, leaning in physically and mentally, and being present by paying attention to the way they communicate in addition to what they’re saying. When you implement these 7 techniques to your own business conversations, you’ll notice improvements in teamwork, increased productivity, and a boost in revenue. Why? Because you took the time to listen actively.
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