Listening is Good Business

I love to talk. My mother reminds me of this constantly. Recently, we were watching “Cast Away” with Tom Hanks (you know, the one where he’s stuck on a desert island with no one to talk to but his trusty volleyball).

Upon pronouncing that I absolutely could not imagine being stuck on a deserted island for four years, she said, “Yes, you would go crazy without anyone else to talk to all day long.”

I laughed and pretended to be offended for sport, but she’s spot on. The downside of the fact that I love to talk often means that I’ve had a hard time with listening because I’m excited to say whatever it is I want to say.

But I’ve become vastly better at listening over the years – as a journalist and writer I simply had to do it. Often, silence is the best tool in my repertoire. People feel uncomfortable with silence and are determined to fill it, which means I get to hear more about the topic. So I make myself shut up and listen.

Listening is a critical skill to develop professionally. You have to follow direction from your boss, listen to and analyze customer feedback or problems and deal with those things. You aren’t likely to succeed if you’re not paying attention.

Complicating the issue is technology. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people having conversations when one of the participants whips out a cell phone to text or post to Facebook while the other person is speaking. Quite rude.

Here’s a hint: It looks terribly disrespectful in the middle of a business meeting.

As a quick reminder of how to be a good listener, here are 10 quick tips from Ragan Communications:

  1. Look at the person speaking to you. Maintain eye contact
  2. Watch for non-verbal clues: body language, gestures and facial expressions
  3. Eliminate all distractions. Don’t multitask
  4. Ask questions that let the other person know you heard him and want to learn more
  5. Don’t interrupt
  6. Don’t finish the other person’s sentences
  7. Avoid using words such as “no,” “but” and “however” when you respond
  8. Don’t prejudge
  9. Display a friendly, open attitude and body language
  10. Ask questions to clarify what you heard

Next time you’re in the middle of a conversation, take stock of how well you are listening and adjust where necessary. And always remember that even our most basic skills need refining and sharpening over the years.