Most career professionals engage in conversation throughout much if not all of the day. Read the suggestions below for listening actively in conversation and then try to implement them when you converse with clients and colleagues later today or the next day you come to work. You may be surprised by the effort active listening requires, as well as by the positive results you achieve by listening actively.
1. Don’t listen only to yourself. Conversation is a way for two or more people to give and take ideas. It is not an opportunity to express your views without listening actively to others.
2. Listen carefully to questions you’re asked so you’re sure that you understand them completely before you give your answers. Ask the interrogator to rephrase or explain a question if you have any doubts about its meaning. Or, say this before you give your answer: “Let me see if I understand your question. You want to know (rephrase it).” Then let the other person agree or disagree with your interpretation of the question before you begin your answer.
3. Don’t engage in side conversation or other activities while someone you should be listening to is talking. Don’t multitask. Focus on listening.
4. Make it apparent that you are listening by facing the speaker and looking engaged. Don’t let your eyes or your attention wander. Force yourself to listen, even when it is difficult to do so.
5. Keep your mind open and flexible. However, continue to be critical of what the other person is saying. Don’t accept blindly whatever your speaking partner suggests. Look for the information that is missing from his or her argument, and also be alert to assumptions and opinions.
6. Look for hidden meanings. People may try to conceal their true thoughts from you. If you feel that someone is keeping the truth from you, ask, “Oh?” or “What do you mean?” in an even, non-threatening tone. Examples of clients’ comments that may have hidden meanings: “That’s pretty expensive,” “I’m a terrible client,” “Following your advice/meeting your deadline is going to be pretty tough,” and “I’ve always been lazy/mistrustful/cheap”. Don’t assume you know what the client means when they say such things to you. Ask for clarification.
7. Ask the speaker to repeat anything you miss or that confuses you. Do this even if the person who is speaking is difficult to understand due to an accent, speech mannerism, or speech impediment. Also, ask the speaker to repeat himself or herself when background noise is interfering with your listening or if the speaker mutters or leaves out important information. Be polite when you ask for a repetition. Smile appropriately. Be very clear that you either could not hear the speaker or understand him or her. Let the speaker know that you “get it” after the repetition, either verbally or with a head nod.