July 18 is World Listening Day, an annual global event put together by the World Listening Project. This unique celebration calls attention to the importance of listening – not just to those around us, but to our inner voices and the everyday sounds of life. Living in a fast-paced world with several distractions can sometimes make slowing down to listen for even a few minutes a tough proposition.
Hearing is something we all intuitively do, but listening is a skill that needs training, refinement, and practice, bringing positive benefits to the body, mind, and those around us.
Naturally, in the workplace, listening to others is critical to getting things done on a practical level. We spend between 70-80% of our productive hours engaged in some form of communication. Even though around 55% of that time is spent listening, we tend to process only 17-25% of what we listen to. However with just a bit of practice, we can all cultivate better listening habits.
- Be descriptive, not prescriptive – We all want to be helpful, but it’s important to not rush to a solution when listening to someone’s problems. Relate your experience that may be helpful in a descriptive way, but avoid writing a prescription by suggesting possible solutions. Most of the time people just want to be effectively heard, so they can better formulate their own solutions.
- Actively practice empathy – From the moment a conversation starts, try to keep your mind in an empathetic mode by imagining yourself in the other person’s shoes. This is harder than it seems, and takes some tricky concentration. As you listen, continually ask how you might feel, how you might react, and let that guide you.
- Wait for your turn to speak – Nobody on this green Earth likes being interrupted, so just don’t do it. Wait patiently for a natural lull to offer your two cents. If a natural lull doesn’t present itself, or if the person is a big talker, saying, “May I offer some advice?” at an opportune time is always a reliable method.
- Work on positive body language – In actuality, our words only convey about 7% of what we mean, and the rest is communicated through body language. Be mindful of your posture, eyes, and arms when listening. Folded arms, tired eyes, and shifting your weight frequently are big no-nos.
When we take the time to carefully listen to other people, it lowers their stress levels, sets the stage for clear communication, and builds unspoken trust. Listening is appreciating, and vice-versa. When someone is described as a “good listener”, it doesn’t mean the person hears everything; it means they know how to hear and process the important things. Try these tips out for World Listening Day and you’ll be hearing similar praise in no time.