communicationListening is one of the most valuable communication tools you have, so it is necessary to do it well. Learning how to become a better listener may be the most important piece of self-development you undertake. Listening and being open to feedback are a key part of doing business better. Listening to customers is essential in order to build the organization’s reputation and deliver the services they require. It is also important to listen to staff, suppliers, competitors and trade contacts. Bosses and senior managers who practice active listening can improve their engagement with employees and foster a culture of continual improvement and respect which gets the best out of the workforce. Be aware that there are some easy traps to fall into when listening to people. This is what makes it such a hard skill to master. However, with a little practice and some support to improve, developing listening skills can reward you with greater job fulfillment and an increased understanding of your customer’s and workforce’s needs.

Be an active listener

One of the big mistakes people make is to guess what a person is going to say or prompt them to say what they would say if they were in the same position instead of actively listening. Cutting people off or putting your own words into their mouths shows them no respect and is far more likely to escalate into conflict. By listening to the whole story, keeping an open mind and waiting to make sure the person you are listening to has finished, you may hear something which surprises or enlightens you. It is worth persevering and being patient when listening to people because sometimes the best insights are saved for last. Active listening involves allowing the speaker to find their way to the point they want to make without trying to steer them there more quickly or even in a direction they do not wish to take. An easy trick to use to improve your ability to listen all the way to the end of someone’s point is to always wait a couple of seconds after they have finished before responding.

Wait to be asked to help

It is also worth remembering that it is often not necessary to solve someone else’s problem but more important to be their sounding board. Many people find the best way to reach their own solutions is to talk through the problem or issue and have time to hear their own concerns aloud. In these situations they simply need someone to listen, not to solve their issues for them. When someone asks directly for advice or your opinion then feel free to give it. However, they may be looking for their own path ahead and simply need to voice the issue to gain clarity of the route they must take next. Try to allow the time you spend listening to be devoted to the other person’s story. Keep your own issues, opinions, experiences, your own need to compete or impress, in the background. If they want your advice or know that you have experienced something similar which may help them, they will ask.