How to have effective conversations? Key is “How to listen” and not talk

In our previous blog ‘Are you listening to what people are really saying? Or are you hearing?we talked about what are the barriers to effective listening; in this one we are going to talk about how can we overcome those barriers. We all have gone through situations where either we are not listening or the other person’s not listening and that’s because listening doesn’t come naturally to everyone ( Less than 2 percent of people have had any formal education on how to listen ) but we really don’t know “How” to overcome it. We will share some situations and each situation helps us reflect how good or bad we are at listening and how we can work on our listening skills, but the devil is in the detail and there are no shortcuts, so more you practice better you become.

Lets look at the situation, where we are facing an issue and we take it to our managers. You approach your manager to seek help on the issue you are facing with vendor management especially on negotiating with the scope and costing of any project.

You – Enter his room

Manager (eyes on the laptop) –Go Ahead

You – Explain the issue that how you need to negotiate with every vendor for each project

Manager – Phone rings and he starts talking to his wife, and gives a blank look you and say ‘Sorry, I didn’t get that. What were you saying?

You – by this time, you have given-up

More than often, we are distracted by external factors like phone, papers, laptops, thoughts etc – but it sends a signal that you are disinterested in listening to the other person. But if you pay undivided attention to him, you will be able to build trust.

not listening 1

How to listen effectively without getting distracted:

  • Look and act interested by leaning forward and facing the person speaking to you.
  • Maintain eye contact while the other person is speaking
  • Keep nodding to demonstrate that you are listening or use encouraging words like “aha”, go on”
  • Paraphrase what you heard – “So what you are saying is….”,
  • Put aside your cell phone or put it on silent, close your computer (or any other distractions)
  • Focus on the speaker and put other thoughts out of your mind, so that they know you are interested which helps you build trust in them.

Another very common situation we deal everyday: At lunch I shared the post by a famous celebrity on beef ban in India. The celebrity criticized the fuss created over beef ban. One of my colleagues just jumped with a statement “US and Australia are not secular nations how can he make such a comment”. The second one said “I am a vegetarian, so good it’s banned. I don’t know how people eat non-vegetarian”. Another one said “When is KBC starting”

What were the barriers to listening we saw here? People hear what they wish to hear. Some are already ready with their reply before you even finish.  They have their own ideas, experiences, bias around a topic and they decode it accordingly. Have you ever fallen into this trap?

not listening 8

Can we overcome the barrier of selective listening, let’s see!

  • Don’t let your prejudice effect your listening, allow the other person to share his thoughts
  • Don’t talk for the sake of talking and to prove your point – could get you in a “foot in your mouth situation”
  • Ensure you accurately reflect back content and feelings without adding any interpretation or meaning – you can ask “Sounds like this topic is of interest to you! Is that right?”
  • Observe his/her reactions while speaking – body language, gestures, facial expressions – this would help you build on the trust and get deeper insights about the person.

Many times we get into a situation where a team member approaches you for solution to a crisis situation he is facing. Like one of your team member comes to you with the issue of current rate of attrition in his team. He explains how it has been very high in the past quarter in spite of all his efforts. But instead of listening or clarifying about the situation, you immediately start criticizing his team management skills.

What would happen here? Making a judgment about the person, or having a closed mind will lead to dis-functioning team. Now days, we are forced to judge even before we have all the information as we need to make quick decisions, but its essential for us to listen and get more insights into the situation.

not listening 6

Stop judging and start listening

  • Listen actively using encouraging words like ‘Aha’, ‘Right’, ‘Yes’, ‘Okay’, to keep the person talking and to demonstrate interest
  • Don’t impose your solutions – rather probe to seek out the other person’s thoughts and ideas – ask,”Tell me more about how that idea might work.”
  • Build on the conversation by asking appropriate questions to take it to the next level
  • Respect the other person for his or her knowledge and skills, irrespective of the person’s background. DO NOT MAKE JUDGEMENT
  • Give space to other person to speak – do not interrupt. This will reinforce the trust with your team and create a culture of openness.

With the ever-changing targets/deadlines, we sometimes forget to appreciate our team and effort they put in to achieve it.  Have you faced this? A team member comes to share his achievement with you. He shares with you about how this client has sent a letter of appreciation for the efforts the team has put in to achieve the targets and quality, despite of the tight deadlines and ever changing demands.  He also shares that he will extend the contract, your reaction “I know; I saw the email. See I told you it will work”.

And what just happened here – you just killed the buzz. Your “I know it all” attitude killed the sense of pride and achievement in your team member.  Sometimes we feel we have more knowledge, experience and expertise than the other person, which creates a barrier to listen to them and understand them.

not listening 5

Listen to appreciate and recognize

  • Acknowledge and appreciate your team member.
  • Stop thinking that it’s about you. It not your agenda, but your team
  • Look into his eyes, and reflect his feelings – “I can hear a great sense of achievement among the team, is that correct?”
  • Watch body language: eyes, tone of voice, posture, pace of speech to understand the emotions attached to the achievement. It helps you get more insights about the emotions attached to the other person.

This happens to us all the time, we have an idea, we propose and the feedback or questions we are faced with, is something we don’t want to listen at all.Like in this situation, you have shared a proposal for new project with your team. One of the new team members have many ideas, and asks questions to seek clarification.You are taken aback with so many clarifications on your proposal and start treating the discussion as disagreement.

Now, you will try to impose your opinion without knowing the different perspective about your team members. As a result, you loose trust within your team and never get new ideas or perspectives from them.
imposing opinion

Seek different perspectives by listening at all levels:

  • When they share their opinions: ask clarification questions – “What things do you observe in this…”
  • Encourage them to elaborate and expand upon their perspectives by probing more – “What more can we do…”
  • Don’t defend your idea; rather seek inputs from others by encouraging them to provide their inputs. Ask more open ended questions to take the discussion forward.

Don’t just listen to those who agree with you, but actively seek out dissenting opinions and thoughts. Listen to those that confront you, challenge you, stretch you, and develop you. And most important is to summarize; whether or not there was an argument or an agreement, summarize as a good practice to avoid any confusions in the future. Effective listening will help you build trust within your team and build stronger relationships.

It’s an ongoing effort to become an effective listener in today’s world of distractions, but we need to make a conscious effort to learn how to listen effectively.


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