How to become a better listener

businessmen talkingBeing a good listener is a valuable business and life skill. Harnessing the best ideas and working effectively with your co-workers starts with listening well and actively, says Coonoor Behal, founder of Mind­­hatch, a business and customer insights firm that uses improv training and design thinking.

Some people are naturally better listeners than others, but like other skills, listening can be improved. If you take the time to work on your listening skills, you can improve your performance at work and your relationships with colleagues.

Follow these tips to learn to lend others your ears more effectively.

•  Use your entire body. Adjusting your body language and expression to demonstrate engagement, reception and responsiveness can make you listen better by triggering your attention, Behal says. Turn toward the speaker and look her in the face as she talks; nod to show agreement or when you think she has made a good point.

•  Up the stakes. Pretend you may need to give a report to someone else on your conversation about an hour after it ends, Behal says. You’ll pay better attention to key themes and nonverbal cues.

•  Ditch your devices. Your phone, tablet or other devices are a distraction. “What may seem like multitasking or an efficient use of your time by simultaneously glancing at emails could actually be pulling you away from receiving important messages,” says Denise Limongello, a psychotherapist and relationship expert in private practice.

•  Be patient. Studies show leaders often complain that their subordinates respond too soon to statements made in meetings and miss the gist of what’s being asked of them—and employees often feel like they need to respond quickly to their superiors, Limongello says. Taking a moment to make sure your boss has completed his thoughts before jumping in to respond can help prevent misunderstandings.

•  Clarify key points. At the end of a discussion, repeat the top points back to the person you’re talking with to ensure you’ve heard them correctly and to reinforce the message to yourself. This step is often missed when people talk to their bosses, simply because they’re anxious and want the meeting to end, Limongello says. “Clarification can save you from needing help carrying out your work at a later time.”