Better listening helps both the talker AND the listener – we all benefit by improved communication!

WSJ: Improving listening skills can help teams work more smoothly. Anne Hardy’s 20-member team at SAP encompasses 14 nationalities, and it is sometimes hard to get them to listen to each other, says Ms. Hardy, an SAP vice president. After she had the group take the training in January before a three-day team meeting, colleagues listened better, as well as “paying attention to emotion and trying to calm down before they responded to someone.” The session was unusually productive, she says.

To prepare for an important conversation, write a list of things you want to say or questions to ask. This “relieves the brain of that burden of thinking about what you’re going to say next,” Mr. Donehue says. “When the conversational thread comes to a natural end, instead of panicking about where you’re going to go next, you have it written down.”

Barbara Miller, an Austin, Texas, communications skills coach, recommends doing a brain dump on paper before a conversation—writing down all the thoughts that might distract you from listening and setting the paper aside until later. She also advises asking clarifying questions during a conversation, such as, “What do you need from me right now?” This “makes people focus their gripes.”

Taking notes or making eye contact can keep the mind from wandering, Mr. Donehue says. Setting a goal for a talking-to-listening ratio also can help, such as talking 25% of the time and listening 75%, he says.

During a conversation, Mr. Treasure recommends keeping in mind an acronym, RASA—for receive, by paying attention to the person; appreciate, by making little noises such as “hmmm” or “oh”; summarizing what the other person said, and asking questions afterward.

Employees who don’t believe their bosses are listening to them are less likely to offer helpful suggestions and new ideas, says a 2007 study of 3,372 workers in Academy of Management Journal. They’re also more likely to become emotionally exhausted and quit, according to another study, published recently in the Journal of Business Ethics.


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