Last week's feature focused on communication skills and their importance in the workplace. This week's feature is about the other side of communication-listening skills.
Hearing is the physical ability, while listening is a skill. Listening skills allow one to make sense of and understand what another person is saying. In other words, listening skills allow people to understand what someone is talking about-the meaning behind the words.
The United States Department of Labor Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) identified five competencies and three foundation skills that are essential for those entering the workforce. Listening skills were among the foundation skills SCANS identified as being critical.
Good listening skills make workers more productive. The ability to listen carefully allows workers to better understand assignments they are given. They are able to understand what is expected of them by their management.
The ability to listen and to comprehend also allows workers to build a strong rapport with coworkers, managers, and clients. Employers and managers have confidence in workers that can listen to instructions and then do what is expected with minimal follow-up. Good listeners also have a better track record resolving problems with customers.
Workers who listen well tend to work better in a team-based environment. Team members are usually assigned a portion of the work. Later, their completed tasks will need to fit in with other team members' results. Those who were able to listen well and perform accordingly will find their work results fit better than those who misunderstood.
Not everyone intuitively knows how to listen well. The following tips will help those who feel like they need a few pointers:
-Maintain eye contact with the speaker. This will demonstrate to the speaker that the listener is paying attention.
-Do not interrupt the speaker. Wait until he or she is completely finished, then ask questions. Listening long enough may answer several of the questions without the need to ask. When the time is right to ask, repeat instructions first and then ask appropriate questions.
-Control body language. As much as possible, sit still while listening. This implies that the listener is paying full attention to the speaker. A nod of the head can be good, as it implies agreement.
-A good listener knows that being attentive to what the speaker doesn't say is as important as being attentive to what he does say. Look for nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and posture to get the full gist of what the speaker is saying.
Beware of the following things that may get in the way of listening:
-Bias or prejudice against the idea or the speaker. This includes language differences or accents.
-Do not let worry, fear, or anger get in the way. Some people are resistant to change, and that can interfere with listening.
-Those with a lack of attention span can have trouble listening. Make sure this is not related to the fact that it is someone else's idea being listened to. Workers need to be mindful of their reactions.
The importance of effective listening skills for employees and managers cannot be overemphasized. Everything done in the workplace involves two-way communication-speaking and listening. Two-way communication is critical in the way it can impact efficiency and effectiveness.
When all members of a team are able to listen as well as speak effectively, they are much more likely to perform well. Effective communication is all about understanding what is being said, not just who says it.