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Overcome barriers to listen better

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in Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

boss and employeeResearch shows that we tend to retain less than 10% of what we hear in a face to face conversation. When we’re multitasking, we remember even less.

To upgrade your listening skills, identify potential traps and take steps to avoid them:

• Jumping ahead. Beware of concentrating on what you want to say next rather than focusing on the speaker’s remarks in the here-and-now. Mentally skipping ahead to what you intend to say can prevent you from capturing critical information that will help you respond appropriately.

• Seeking agreement—and nothing more. It’s easy to listen when you agree with what you hear. But the real challenge is tuning in once you realize the speaker is presenting an argument that you find objectionable.

If you stop listening to an oppos-ing view, you limit your ability to learn from others. Instead, welcome comments that are not aligned with your opinions or experiences. Tell yourself, “I want to understand this different perspective.”

• Rushing to play fixer. Your good intentions to help others solve their problems can lead you astray. If you interrupt to offer a solution, you might alienate people who aren’t ready to accept your advice.

A smarter strategy is to wait until speakers finish making their point. They may need to vent, tell a story or reveal their underlying concern before they’re able to embrace your solution. Listen patiently until you’re sure they’ve covered everything on their plate.

• Applying your biases. Listeners often filter what they hear through their own screens. If you bring certain biases or assumptions to a conversation, you might miss the real message.

Example: A senior executive might meet an entry-level clerk and think, “This person isn’t too bright.” If you conclude that someone has little to offer, you’ll listen half-heartedly.

— Adapted from “Tuning Out: Listening Becomes a Rare Skill,” Sue Shellenbarger, www.wsj.com.

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