Written by: Katrina Lubiano
Listening is an art. Epictetus, a Greek philosopher wrote: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Talking too much is hazardous to your networking life. We’ve all been around that person who can’t stop talking about themselves or their projects. We might even be guilty of committing that social crime. Don’t be the person people end up avoiding at the office and networking events and improve your active listening skills.
Networking and active listening are about making a connection with people. A powerful listener can focus on the speaker without distraction from their mind chatter. As it turns out, great listening skills may be the most fundamental networking tool at your disposal, and it requires practice and the willingness to listen.
The average person speaks [English] at about 225 words per minute, but we can listen to up to 500 words per minute (LifeHack). This means that while we’re listening to a speaker, our minds are eager to fill in those 275 words* making us easily susceptible to distraction in a conversation.
Why are we so bad at listening?
Hearing is the physical act of perceiving sounds with our ears, while listening is the conscious effort you choose to do and requires concentration. We spend way too much time concerned on thinking of something to say when the person stops talking rather than being present to what the speaker is communicating.
Regardless of what you might think about your multitasking abilities, our brains aren’t wired for multitasking. Instead, our brains switch between tasks and this switching diminishes the quality of effort we put into an activity (Harvard Business Review). When we’re caught up in our mind chatter, we’re can’t be fully present in the conversation, and in effect, this lowers our listening abilities.
It’s much simpler to just actively listen than to attempt to formulate a reply while listening to the speaker. Actively listening to someone requires connecting with them. It involves opening yourself to a dialogue of new ideas and opinions and trusting that you will come up with the appropriate response naturally after having fully understood the speaker instead of only hearing sounds and making assumptions.
Don’t underestimate the value of active listening. Building an authentic relationship with your colleagues, bosses, and client’s requires empathy and creating a connection to what they have to communicate. The bonding formed through the use of active listening will make you the go-to person for advice and leadership roles.
Communicate with body language
When you’re practising active listening, you’ll provide constant feedback to the speaker by engaging verbal and nonverbal cues. You should face the person speaking with your shoulders square towards them and appear open to receive their attention. Subtly mirroring the speaker’s movements might make them feel more comfortable talking to you, but make sure you’re not exactly mirroring them as this can come across mockingly.
Pay attention to how you’re looking at others. You want your eye-contact to be gentle and not too firm as it can come across as intimidating. Check in with how long you’re engaging in eye-contact as shy speakers might feel embarrassed if it’s kept for too long. If you’re successfully actively listening, you’ll be able to pick up on your speaker’s nonverbal cues as well.
Tune into emotion
Connect to the emotional tone of the content and empathise. Avoiding emotions in a conversation can give the impression that you’re insincere or cold- you definitely don’t want to be that! Pay attention to what the speaker is saying with their verbal and nonverbal communication and identify the feelings behind the statements and verbalise it. This can help the speaker feel like they’ve been truly understood and will create a stronger bond between you.
Clarify instead of asking assumptions
Active listening is a skill that takes time and practice. Be honest- if you’ve zoned out of the conversation, ask for clarification. The main idea behind active listening is creating a mutual understanding so there is no room for ambiguities in interpretation. It’s better to have the full picture than to make a judgement call and create your own assumptions.
Restate what the speaker is saying in your own words as to cement the information in your own mind as well as to demonstrate your understanding of the content.
Exercises to improve listening
Julian Treasure, author of How to Be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening and TED Talk Speaker says, “conscious listening is where understanding comes from.” In the short video below, he gives some interesting exercises to improve one’s conscious listening skills. Improving our ability to listen to noise around us will improve our quality of life and ultimately improve our ability to tune into someone speaking to us.
- 3 minutes a day of silence to reset and calibrate your ears to focus on quiet again.
- In a noisy environment, observe how many channels of sound you can hear in that space to improve the quality of your listening.
- Savour sounds by learning to appreciate the mundane sounds in everyday life and meditating to the “hidden choir” around us.
Listening can build your confidence by strengthening your relationships. You’ll notice people will be grateful for your ability to listen and in return people will be more receptive to what you have to say. Remember to chose your words with care. Save your words for crafting connections and displaying strengths rather than boring your company with self-promotion.