Listening is a crucial and often forgotten element of good communication. Getting it right essentially means building a relationship with the speaker, supporting them to speak with confidence, and building receptivity.
Getting it wrong means a lack of shared engagement, and it means the speaker can lose confidence, dry up and close like a clam poked by an errant schoolboy: useful if you want a person to stop talking (although not very nice) but useless if you want to build rapport with the speaker, or get some information from them.
So how do we listen well?
Some of you may have heard of active listening, which describes the process of listening well. In short (because this is the blog and not the book) it makes demands mostly on your non-verbal communication.
The eyes should be focused on the speaker, and engaged while they talk, which might well mean the odd eyebrow lift (do it now and observe how surprised you feel), an open relaxed face, with the odd smile now and again.
Nods are hugely important; keep your body open and facing the speaker, and use little affirmative murmurs at opportune moments.
All this builds the relationship with the speaker, and shows them that although you may be silent, you are totally with them.
It can also be done on the phone, with the little sounds being most useful, but remember, a smile can be heard in your voice, so smiling helps, even though the other person can’t see you.
And what to avoid? Crossed arms, multi-tasking, looking away, fiddling, frowning, and a closed expression—yes, even when you’re on the phone!
Tip: When you are next at a presentation or listening to a speech, take a moment to see who is actively listening and who isn’t. If you were the speaker, who would you rather speak to?