Working from home these days requires lots of Zoom meetings and conference calls. It also requires blocking out distractions. This can be your child’s request for more food or a loud TV in the next room. With this in mind, the role of active listening is more important than ever.
Through my work as a former instructor of business communication at Georgia State University, and as a Vistage Speaker today, I’ve had a chance to study and share best practices for active listening. Here are five tips for active listening while working from home.
Tip #1: Be Prepared
Never underestimate the importance of preparation. I suggest you carve out at least 15 minutes before your Zoom meeting to prepare your space. Make sure you can connect online and that your video and audio is working. Review your notes for the meeting. Ensure your family knows not to disturb you. Try to remove any distracting elements from your line of vision. For me, this means closing the blinds to my window doors, which look out into the backyard. If my children are there, I get easily distracted. Conversely, if they see me, they’ll start yelling for me to join them!
Tip #2: Be Active and Engaged
Research from several sources, including the Institute for Clinical Research Education, indicates that we only listen at about 25% efficiency. There are several biological reasons for this. To help overcome this deficiency, it’s imperative that we become “active” listeners. Active listening includes taking notes, nodding when in agreement and using strong eye contact with the person who is speaking. Research shows that by pairing physical movements with cognitive efforts we become more engaged.
Research from several sources, including the Institute for Clinical Research Education, indicates that we only listen at about 25% efficiency.
Tip #3. Refrain from Cutting People Off
The human brain can process information at least three times as fast as the 150 average words we speak per minute. Our brain’s ability to move faster than what is being said leads us to distraction. This is a big reason why we tend to cut people off before they are finished speaking. We need to suppress the urge to cut people off. Effective communication is only possible when the sender and receiver are practicing good habits. Cutting off a speaker can negatively affect how he or she behaves the rest of the interaction. If you must cut someone off, do it in a considerate manner to keep that person engaged as a participant.
Tip #4: Ask Questions
Active listeners are also good questioners. If you’re attending a Zoom meeting with your team and you don’t have any questions, you should ask yourself why. Most active and engaged listeners will have questions. At the very least, they can add something constructive to the conversation. Don’t let technology or your remote physical presence prevent you from asking good questions or engaging in a meaningful way.
Don’t let technology or your remote physical presence prevent you from asking good questions
Tip #5: Synthesize and Recap
No matter how long a meeting lasts, it’s always a good idea to recap what you heard and what the next steps are. Repeat back or rephrase what you heard by referring to your notes. Repeating, rephrasing or recapping is an excellent way to sharpen your active listening skills. It is also a great way to set expectations with your teammates or clients.
More Resources Available
There are several resources available for individuals and teams to improve their listening skills. You may want to check out Virtual Speech. Free business communication courses are offered through edX. The Center for Creative Leadership provides more tips for becoming an Active Listener. Spaulding Communications also offers a variety of training resources too.
As we go about our new way of working – with numerous distractions and stressors – it’s even more important to practice strong listening techniques. Great listeners bring success to themselves and their teams.
What other tips do you have to be a good listener today?