Over the past couple of years, I have spent a lot of time in meetings. It seems like the higher up the ladder you go, the more meetings you have to attend. I have come to the conclusion that people in general do not listen. Listening is becoming a lost art and it is becoming more difficult to hear what is really being said over the noise that is being created.
I guarantee if I asked any one of you to assess your listening skills, you would all say that you are all good listeners. It’s a necessary skill to have and one that potential employers look for. I know I have my faults and periodically, I have to remind myself of these and set myself back on the right track. I would challenge you to do the same. These are some of the things I do myself, or really bug me in others, to help you.
Finishing other people’s sentences. I admit – I do this. It’s a really bad habit that gets worse the more engaged I am in the conversation. I am listening to what is being said but I’m in a hurry to get to my chance to speak and try to rush the conversation along. Every time I do it, I try to mentally slap myself on the wrist to stop myself.
Multiple people talking at the same time. This is one I try not to do and really annoys me in others. There is absolutely nothing that is gained by having two (or more) people talking at the same time in a meeting. Even the best listeners cannot hear and process two conversations at once and it essential makes the conversation useless.
Talking louder to make a point. Again, one of my bugbears. I very rarely have to raise my voice and if I do, I think my colleagues know I am really upset. Raising your voice as a means to get your point over only makes people focus on your tone and not what you are saying.
Let all opinions be heard. This is one I struggle with and have to really make a point of allowing everyone the opportunity to speak. Some people are naturally less confident and tend to stay in the background. It’s my job to make sure they have equal opportunity to provide input and have to consciously ask for their input and make sure others give them the opportunity to speak.
Having side conversations. It is incredibly disrespectful to have your own side conversation when other people are speaking. First of all, if you are talking with someone else, you are not listening. If it is that important that it can’t wait, move out of the room. If it’s something that you need to share, wait for your turn and discuss with the group.
Providing a running commentary. Again, something I have to stop myself from doing. I do it more when I am participating in a remote meeting and my phone is on mute. I tend to react to what is being said and I sometimes have to actually bite my lip to stop the words coming out. I realize that when I am doing that, I lose focus on what is being said and don’t listen to the conversation.
External distractions. We are never going to eliminate cell phones and tablets from our meetings. We are all so used to reading and replying to emails and texts instantaneously we get anxious if there is a delay. But whenever you are reading an email, you are not listening to what is being said. I’m not saying to detach yourself completely, but I do consciously try not to look at my phone in meetings unless I have to. Focus on the task at hand and try not to be distracted.
So, next time you’re in a meeting, evaluate which of these you do and which others do. I guarantee knowing what your bad habits are, will help you become a better listener and stop the incredibly valuable skill of listening becoming a lost art.