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Future of Work Skill – Listening

Welcome to the key skills series

Since March we have been forced to adapt our ways of working, and it’s no secret that people don’t want to simply go back to the old way of working and with that, we need to nurture and develop a new set of skills that are needed for the future of work.

In the next
four weeks I will be sharing my thoughts on the top skills needed for the
future of work and some tips on how to develop and implement these skills.

SKILL
NUMBER ONE: ACTIVE LISTENING

Listening
has always been a fundamental skill but one I think more now than ever is so
important. Although we are coming out of lockdown, the world as we knew is
still upside down for a lot of us. People are working remotely, connections
have been lost, and fear and anxiety is still prevalent.

We’re
hearing more and more than companies like Atlassian, Google and Twitter, will
allow their teams to work remotely indefinitely, with many companies following
suit and developing a distributed workforce. This presents an opportunity to
really develop skills that will be needed for this future way of working.

Without
being in person and not everyone being in the same room, we really need to make
a conscious effort to listen to what is being said and what is not being said
as without that in person connection, it is hard to pick up on some of those
body language cues that identify people’s reactions and how people are feeling.

TOP TIPS
FOR DEVELOPING ACTIVE LISTENING SKILLS

NUMBER 1 –
Ask yourself why is someone telling me this?

If we took
a moment and asked ourselves this question, we can start to understand the
person’s mindset and motivation. We’ve been told in the past that by repeating
back what someone has said to you, it shows you have been listening. However,
what this doesn’t show is your understanding of why you are being told this and
what it means to the person telling you. Instead of paraphrasing what the
person has said, a top tip is to try responding with ‘What I’m hearing is…’
or ‘It sounds to me like…’ to ensure you have understood correctly
. This
allows the speaker to confirm you have understood why they are telling you
this. If you’re not entirely sure on something, probe a bit deeper and ask
‘What do you mean when you say…’ or ‘Is this what you mean…’.

Sometimes
people aren’t entirely sure themselves of why they are telling you something
but by listening and asking why, you can help each other to uncover the real
meaning and issue to find better solutions and better connectivity by allowing
the person to feel listened to and understood.

NUMBER 2 – Avoid
assuming you know how the conversation is going to go

Thinking
you already know how a conversation will go stifles the possibilities that can
come out of conversations. Trying to control the conversation and grabbing the
narrative makes for one-sided conversations and kills collaboration, mutual
understanding and appreciation, so it is best to go into a conversation with
genuine curiosity about what the person is saying.

Take
yourself back to a situation when someone has said to you, ‘can we have a
chat?’. Our minds go into overdrive, we start playing out scenarios, plan what
we will say in response. But by doing this, we are hindering the possibilities
of the conversation; we are listening out for what we think is going to be
said, armed ready with our response and can miss the opportunity to listen to identify
the real issue.

A top
tip here is to go into the meeting genuinely curious. Say to yourself ‘I’m
intrigued to find out what this person would like to talk about’.
And if you don’t know how to respond
in that moment, that is okay. Use the clarifying questions below to gain the
information you need, take a few seconds before you respond and understand it
is okay to say ‘I’d like to think about that some more’ – you are honouring
what that person has said by taking time to think properly.

NUMBER 3 –  Ask open ended questions

A common
problem with questioning is that we tend to ask questions that can lead to us
getting the answer we are looking for, trip someone up or aiding confirmation
bias (where we search for information that confirms or supports our beliefs or
ideas). If we ask clarifying, open ended questions, we gain a better
understanding of what is going on and allows us to find solutions to the real
issues. This is especially important in a time where we are still trying to
adapt and learn to navigate this new world of work.

Asking open
ended questions with genuine interest and curious can avoid the recipient
feeling as though they are being interrogated, which can bring out
defensiveness and it is far more useful to listen to how people came to their
conclusions and understand what you can learn from them.

A top
tip is to use open ended questions to gain a better understanding, instead of
closed questions which have a yes/no answer. Another top tip is to try and
avoid using questions that start with Why as it can make the recipient
defensive and feel attacked.

Here are
some examples of open-ended questions you can ask

*

Closed Questions

Open Ended Questions

Begins with

Do
Does
Did
Is
Are
Would

What
How

Answers sound like

Yes/No
One word
I don’t know

Story-like
Invite more clarifying questions
Unscripted

*Source –
Ask Powerful Questions, Will Wise & Chad Littlefield

NUMBER 4 – Avoid
distractions and pay attention to the person speaking

This seems
like an obvious one, but it is so crucial for connection when working remotely.
It is so easy to multi-task when on video calls, responding to an email,
checking Slack etc. And whilst we think we are listening; our brains can’t give
100% attention to both at the same time and we can miss important parts of the
conversation. A top tip here is to shut down your email, Slack etc. whilst
on calls so you can pay full attention to what the speaker is saying. Simple,
yet effective!

Not only is
it distracting for the speaker, we also miss part of the conversation, even if for
a few seconds, and subconsciously fill in the gaps as we return to the
conversation. Instead of admitting that you are lost, we complete what we THINK
was said. A top tip here is to acknowledge you missed part of the
conversation and ask the speaker to repeat what they had said. Again, simple
but avoids any misunderstanding or miscommunication.

NUMBER 5 – Learn
something about the person you are speaking to

According to a widely circulated story, Dick Bass, who had travelled
many places and had many adventures including being the first person to climb
the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, was on a flight when he
started speaking to the person next to him. The person listened to Bass tell
the stories of his adventures about how he climbed Everest, how he nearly died
in the Himalayas and his future adventuring plans. Just as the plane landed,
Bass realized he hadn’t asked the person anything about himself including his
job or even his name. The person next to him shook his hand and responded with
‘Hi, I’m Neil Armstrong. Nice to meet you’.

Can you
imagine!? When we only focus on ourselves, we miss so many opportunities to
learn about others; especially in a time when we are working remotely, and we
miss those random office chats that offer up information and learning about one
another. A top tip here is when you go into a meeting, have a conversation
etc. set yourself a goal to learn something about the person you are speaking to.
When you leave a conversation ask yourself – what did I learn about that
person? What was most concerning to that person today? How did that person feel
about what we were talking about?

NUMBER 6 – Get
multiple perspectives

We have a
natural tendency is to tune into what we find interesting or important, but
this can lead to misunderstanding of priorities. Something that might not be
important to you, could be important to someone else. By having a combination
of different interpretations of what was said, it allows a more rounded picture
of information. A top tip is to have multiple people in a meeting take notes
and then compare notes and actions afterwards
to define the correct
priorities.

NUMBER 7 – Avoid
interrupting or finishing someone’s sentences

Sometimes
this can come with good intentions, we can jump in and say ‘me too, when I
did….’ because we want to create a connection with shared experiences and show
empathy, however, what this actually does is interrupts the person and can
detract them from what they are saying or what they meant to say. A top tip
is to wait until that person has finished and instead use the questions we
mentioned before ‘What I’m hearing is…’ to create the connection
.
Connection does come from shared experiences and a way to do this could be to
ask ‘Can I tell you my similar experience of this…’

However,
interrupting can be because someone just wants to dominate the conversation and
have their voice heard. To avoid doing this yourself, you have to dig into your
self-awareness and notice how often you do this or the situations you do this
in and understand why you do this. A top tip is to find someone you trust to
hold you accountable for this and get them to let you know the situations you
might have done this following a call or a meeting.

NUMBER 8 – (A bonus tip because I don’t like leaving things on odd numbers), is challenge yourself to listen to someone with a differing opinion to yours.

Whether it is a podcast, an interview or in person, practice listening without judgement to that person and practice understanding where their beliefs come from. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but it helps you understand where that person is coming from and allow for better compromise, negotiation and understanding.

And if you need more tips on active listening, this clip from Everybody
Loves Raymond perfectly explains it:

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