In today’s work culture, where employees are accustomed to working at a certain pace, rushing to and fro between meetings and striving to meet deadlines, listening is a soft skill that is often neglected and sometimes even conveniently ignored in the workplace.

Be it a missed project deadline or a wrong order that has been placed or just incompatible team mates, the underlying factor lies in communication gone askew. In situations where people are determined to have their voices heard or have their ideas conveyed first, it is almost impossible for listening to take place. Poor listening leads to mistakes and improper judgment in business and also tends to cause mistrust among colleagues, which are all detrimental to the organisation.

Effective listening is a key skill that everyone in the organisation needs to cultivate and adhere to for a cohesive work atmosphere that eventually results in the organisation’s success. Good listening results in sound financial decisions and improved revenue for the company.

While active listening is an acquired skill for many people, the ability to listen, pay attention to the content and offer feedback are essential aspects of communication, as well.

Here are some tips on how to improve listening skills for better communication at work:

Staying focused

Active listening involves staying focused on the complete message, and not just on the individual words. Often, in business meetings and in conversations with co-workers, the listener is more caught up in the words during the speech/conversation, rather than grasping the entire message that is being conveyed. Further, the listener is mentally preparing in responding to the statement made or question asked, instead of listening to the speaker with utmost concentration.

There are other times when the person is busy checking messages on their smartphone, texting or doing other work and not giving the speaker their complete attention.

To listen better, you can try the following, clear your mind of thoughts and refrain from forming conclusions based on prior opinion. The best way to truly listen to the speaker is by making proper eye contact and ‘actually’ listening to what they have to say.

Refrain from exhibiting disinterested body language or impatient mannerisms such as shuffling your feet, drumming your fingers or staring at your watch every few minutes. This will indicate to the speaker that you are not interested or being receptive to the message. If the speaker is non-engaging in his or her style and is delivering the content as lecture style, feel free to take notes to keep your focus on the message.

Be visual

Once you have absorbed the content of the message by being an active listener, the next step is to process the information that has been delivered.

An easy way of doing so is by trying to visualise your message. Try and form a mental image of what your speaker is conveying so that the content will be firmly etched in your memory. Also, pay attention to the non- verbal message that is communicated by the speaker.

For instance, at a business meeting if your speaker is someone who is constantly flailing his arms or twisting his fingers, then you can conclude that he is simply being nervous or is under stress.

Reflect on the content

Now that you’ve demonstrated active listening and visualised your message, reflect on the content and confirm that you have understood what has been conveyed in the appropriate context. This can be done by asking questions, ensure that your speaker has completed his statements, before interrupting his or her flow.

Clarify by asking questions such as, “I understand that you want to finish this project within three weeks?” or, “So, you are saying that this has to be completed in three weeks?” With careful questioning, you can understand requirements and deliverables clearly and also perform better. Also, in situations where customer interactions are involved, such type of questioning will ensure that the customer feels his needs are met and understood well.

Offer feedback

There may be times when even after being a good listener; the content is confusing or unclear. Under such circumstances, offer constructive feedback to the speaker so that they will help you understand the message better.

Stay away from being negative and echo what you think the speaker meant to convey. Try and paraphrase what you heard and confirm what you just heard so that the speaker knows that you were listening closely. At the same time, abstain from offering unsolicited feedback.

Sometimes, your speaker might simply want to vent their feelings or share their opinions on a subject and it is best to keep quiet during those moments.

To sum up, listening carefully when someone talks to you can help you be a better communicator. Active listening requires patience and focus and is extremely crucial for the success of any organisation.

Practicing the above active listening steps will help you to have good attention to detail and will also make you a better team player at work.

Anusha Balasubramanian