Business In The Workplace

Monday 18 December 2017

How to boost your business by being an 'active' listener

'Try to keep an open mind and not come into a meeting with unwavering positions on issues.' (Stock image)
'Try to keep an open mind and not come into a meeting with unwavering positions on issues.' (Stock image)

Gina London

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Likewise, if a presentation is given in the boardroom and no one pays attention, does it make an impact?

Now, I'm not for a moment pretending that everything a presenter says is always interesting or told in an engaging way. I'll be providing loads of tips to improve presentations in upcoming columns, but for today, if there's a reason for you to be listening, here are some ways to help yourself do it better.

Let's focus on the often-overlooked skill of 'active' listening.

The first time I came across the term I remember thinking it had to be some made-up mumbo-jumbo.

How does one "actively" listen? Isn't listening just sitting there while the other person talks? How can you be active and listening at the same time?

That's before I came to understand how much deliberate effort it takes to not only teach yourself how to really listen but also how to help organisations encourage innovation and a stronger sense of purpose by establishing a listening culture.

Here are five ways to help your business and you become more active listeners.

1 Institutionalise Listening

A lot of managers tell me they have an open-door policy and employees are always welcome to drop by with ideas or comments. But are they really? How often do people actually pop in day-to-day? That's a passive listening atmosphere.

An active listening atmosphere solicits input from employees in a structured way.

For instance, I lead listening sessions. Typically, the top manager welcomes everyone and then goes away so employees feel free to speak without fear of reprisal.

Their suggestions are organised, presented and prioritised.

I used to consult with the director of a museum in the US who ate his lunch with three different employees every day.

The meal provided a comfortable setting for conversation and boosted morale since everyone looked forward to their time to eat and chat with the boss.

Last week, while I was speaking at an event in Belfast, I met the director of an energy company.

Every month she asks a small group of employees from different departments, minus their direct supervisors, to join her in her office for a brainstorming session.

Grabbing a marker and easel, she captures their comments and - here's the key - she follows up on their ideas.

One employee recently suggested overtime be paid in time off rather than only in money. She's now having her HR department research the idea.

Structure listening events like these and you'll move your culture from passive to active.

2 Clear distractions

The number one distractor these days is our phone. If you're meeting someone, turn off the ringer. Move it out of reach. Better yet, move it completely out of sight.

As well as your phone, if you're seated at a desk, turn your computer away from you. Create an environment that says to the other person or people you are planning to be attentive.

3 Get closer

When I was with CNN, I interviewed the mayor of a major city in his office. He was sitting at a desk that was on top of a small stage.

A long wooden table extended on the floor below the stage and I was directed to sit at its far end. That's how the interview was conducted. Seriously.

If your office has room for a table in addition to a desk, move to the table to meet people.

A lot of businesses now have created collaborative work stations or cosy meeting rooms. Use them.

Proximity indicates rapport. Don't cramp their personal space, of course, but if you want to show you care about the other person, take a seat nearer to them - and don't put your desk on a stage.

4 Ask questions

When someone is speaking, don't just wait for a break so you can talk, cultivate your interest in that person and their point of view by asking a follow-up question.

Try to keep an open mind and not come into a meeting with unwavering positions on issues.

Good questions will help you to be perceived as more collaborative and you may even learn something in the process.

5 Act the part

When was the last time you were in a meeting and you felt yourself drift off as someone else was speaking? Did you slump back in your chair?

Prop your head up with hand under your chin? Did your expression glaze over or your eyes roll back in your head?

When you act more interested, not only does the presenter think you are, you'll begin to feel that way yourself.

When you're seated, lean in slightly toward the speaker. Not so much that it looks like you're ready to spring up from your chair and run away, but at about 30 degrees.

If you understand or agree with a point, nod your head.

Take your hands off your chin and clasp them on the table. Smile. Presenters aren't blind. They can see when you have checked out.

Listen actively. We teach people how to treat us.

Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

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