In any group, one of the most fundamental needs is to be heard. We’ve all been “talked at,” and it can stall good ideas and innovative processes before they even start. Active listening, on the other hand, can build teams and inspire everyone to whom you talk.
Pay Attention To Non-Verbal Cues
Body language says a lot about how engaged you are. Eye contact, as an example, gives us the clearest read not just on where a person’s attention is, but also their body language and their non-verbal signals. For example, if somebody is wide-eyed and talking excitedly, you’ll have a different read on the situation they’re discussing than if they have relaxed eyes and a quiet tone.
Of course, some of us struggle to make eye contact, out of shyness, for example. If somebody’s uncomfortable with eye contact, don’t make them do it. Even if they’re not looking at you directly, you can show engagement with “open” body language such as sitting up and leaning forward.
Focus On The Speaker
While any environment will have its distractions, focusing on the person speaking will help tune them out. Make an effort to ignore side conversations, or ask people distracting you if they wouldn’t mind shifting the volume down a little. Turn down any music that’s playing, or pause any videos or screensavers that might distract you.
While a person speaks, show attentiveness. This can be simple, such as nodding when the speaker finishes a point, or it might be in the form of taking notes or asking a relevant question. Small verbal cues, such as saying “uh huh,” can also help.
Keep Your Mind Open
We’ve all done it; a person starts talking and we immediately start crafting a response. Sometimes it’s because we think we know what they’re going to say. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to hear what they have to say. Regardless of the reason it’s done, it always shuts down the listening process.
Instead, hold your tongue, both mentally and verbally, and really pay attention to what’s being communicated. Even if you already know the broad strokes, that doesn’t mean you understand the nuances of what’s being said. For example, in your town’s race for mayor, you may not support a candidate, but understanding why somebody does might introduce you to concerns in your community of which you may not have been aware.
Offer Understanding And Feedback
When a person is done with their statement and expecting a reply, sum up what you’ve heard from them. Use language like “What I’m hearing is…” and leave the door open to being corrected.
Honesty is also important. Sometimes you’re going to have an emotional reaction, especially if somebody on the team has to discuss a feeling that a current approach isn’t working or has reached the end of its useful life. That reaction may be obvious, so acknowledge it. Then set it aside and focus on what’s said. If you need to let your feelings settle, be clear about that, and give a concrete method and time to follow up, such as an email the next day.
Really hearing what somebody says is always a bonus for innovation. To learn more about strategies to spur innovation, join our newsletter!