The pandemic has taught me a few new skills. One of them is being able to tune out distractions and hear only the thoughts in my head. It has its pros and cons.
Offices and airport lounges have transitioned to become hotelling workspace over the past few years. Big long tables that look very much like a kitchen island, with plugs and a small amount of space to work. You are directly across and beside others. Each day you turn up at work, you pick your counter space (hotel space) and work away. It doesn’t have your name on it. You have a different spot each day. Nothing stays there when you leave at the end of the day.
If you are easily distracted by noises and other people, this new working style is horrendous unless you learn new skills – such as the ability to tune out others.
However, while this new skill is good for focus, it isn’t good for my interpersonal skills and relationship skills. I’ve become a much worse listener at a time when we all need to become better listeners.
In our hybrid work environments, effective communication is foundational to creating relationships and driving productivity. We don’t see everyone every day, we don’t have time to have those relaxed social conversations, and even our meetings are entirely different as half the attendees are multitasking and not paying attention anyway!
Building and maintaining relationships is more challenging. Add into the mix that we have learned to tune people out; we often message that we aren’t listening or don’t care about our colleagues.
There are times when we need to double down on our listening skills. Here are five things to consider when listening to others at work:
- Focus on the speaker:
We all agree that it is frustrating when we are having a conversation with a colleague only to feel that they aren’t paying attention to us. They are on their phone, responding to emails, or multitasking.
If we are on a video conference, ensure your camera is on (especially if fewer than five people are on the call), and look into the camera. When your camera shows me the side of your head, I do not feel you are paying attention, let alone listening. This might mean you have to use a different monitor than usual, but look at the camera so that I feel you are listening to me.
If we are face-to-face, please put down your phone, close your laptop, and focus on the people in the room. I am that person who calls out my friends for picking up their phone while they are visiting with me. It makes me feel like you have more important things to do, which doesn’t feel good.
Give your undivided attention, and you’ll show others you are listening to them.
- Practice empathy:
Empathy is the cornerstone of effective listening. Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes and try understanding their perspective and emotions. Imagine what it would feel like if you were the person in the story. You create an authentic connection by actively showing empathy fostering trust and collaboration. Ensure you acknowledge your colleague’s feelings and experiences, even if you disagree. Remember, empathy does not equate to agreement; it signifies your willingness to understand and support one another.
- Avoid Interrupting:
I confess I am a chronic interrupter. I don’t interrupt you to be rude; I’m not even worried about forgetting what I was going to say. I interrupt because we are on the same wavelength, and I get excited about that, and my excitement has me jumping into the conversation too early.
I know that it is rude and that I must stop doing it. It tells the other person that what I have to say is more important than what they have to say. I don’t feel that way, but that is what my actions say.
Allow others to finish their thoughts before you jump in and speak. It shows you are interested in what they have to say, makes them feel valued and heard, and is helpful to build relationships rather than damage them.
- Ask Open-Ended Questions:
Show you are listening by asking questions. Show you are genuinely interested by asking open-ended questions rather than close-ended (which can be answered by a single word such as yes or no).
Be genuine, though. Don’t say you want to hear more about a topic if you don’t, as your insincerity will creep into your message. Ask questions to understand, but don’t make it feel like an interrogation. Be interested so you can be interesting.
- Reflect and Summarize:
It is important to reflect and summarize what you’ve heard occasionally to show that you’ve been listening. Questions help with that, but sometimes, a statement will also work.
This also helps if there are any misunderstandings and shows your colleague you’ve not only been listening to what they say but you understand it, too.
Sitting at a long table working means that I need to be able to focus to ensure I get work done. Working with others means I must listen to what they say and mean to ensure I get work done.
They are both important skills, but the ability to listen will have a profound impact on your relationships at work.