Author Mark Twain said, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” Twain would probably not be surprised at the fact that the average U.S. adult only has an attention span of about eight seconds. That number has actually gone down from 12 seconds since 2000. We’re actually getting worse at listening. While this might not come as a surprise with more and more daily distractions in today’s world, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing we can do. Communication is essential—and listening is a critical part of that. Whether you’re a manager or an employee, becoming a better listener will benefit both you and your workplace team.
Why is listening important?
It might seem obvious that listening is a key part of communicating, but have you ever thought about the many ways it improves our lives?
- Listening aids understanding. Listening is how we get information and learn instructions. As an employee, you need to listen to receive the directions on how to do your job successfully. As a supervisor, you want to listen to your staff to make sure you have effectively communicated your expectations about the job.
- Listening solves problems. When employees listen well, there are fewer errors—which means less wasted time. There is less of a chance that you’ll have to redo a project. Then, when there is a problem, listening can aid employers and staff in working together to resolve issues.
- Listening builds relationships. People can tell when you’re truly listening. People are more likely to trust and respect others who listen well. It makes them feel like their ideas and thoughts are valued, which improves relationships.
How can I be a better listener?
Regardless of your position, everyone can work to improve his or her listening skills. A few simple things you can try are to:
- Be attentive. It might sound simple, but the most important part of listening is paying attention. Put down your phone, turn away from your computer or project, and be present, concentrating on what the speaker is saying.
- Give feedback. Let the speaker know you are listening by offering feedback. This could be as simple as nodding, or rephrasing a statement. Don’t interrupt; rather wait for pauses to respond or ask questions.
- Keep an open mind. Try not to make judgments about what a person is saying before they’re even finished talking. Develop curiosity about what they’re saying. This will help you remain interested and hold off on quick assumptions.
Some of the best leaders and employees are those who listen well. Your coworkers will notice and your workplace will benefit.