Part of daily life, whether in business, at home, or at school, is listening to others. From listening to a friend's stories from their holiday to paying attention to the latest presentation at work, really listening is key to showing your interest and understanding in the topic at hand. It is also the best way to learn and challenge your own opinion.
Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins own a leadership development firm and have recently written about the difficulties one of their clients, Janet, had with active listening. Janet was surprised when she received feedback from her team members who all said that she did not listen very well because she'd always considered herself a good listener.
Amy and Muriel emphasise that active listening is a skill that you can build up over time and ironically, it means starting by looking at yourself and the way you see yourself in relation to the person to whom you are listening.
Their first piece of advice is to:
Ignore your inner critic. Janet realized that she wasn’t tracking to the dialogue because she was nervous about her own performance. Her mind was attuned to a different voice — that of her own inner critic — monitoring how she was doing in the meeting. This was especially true during presentations. Janet’s performance anxiety overshadowed her ability to hear the concerns underlying each question and kept her from noticing the audience’s cues to move along. Shift your focus from “getting a good grade” to the presentation’s greater purpose. What excites you about the topic or audience?
This isn't always easy advice to follow when you're trying to show your own talents and understanding around your colleagues but if you're able to gradually turn your focus away from your own anxieties and insecurities, you'll be able to make yourself more aware of the conversation at hand. This in turn will mean your colleagues will appreciate you all the more for your listening skills and you'll be able to contribute more accurately to the work that's being discussed.
Developing better listening skills is a great idea and it's always worth checking in on your listening skills so that you're aware of how others might perceive how you listen. After all, listening involves another person who is sharing their thoughts and ideas. Head over to the rest of the post, called 'What Gets in the Way of Listening' to see the other three pieces of advice that Amy and Muriel had for Janet and how you could change your listening skills for the better.