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How to listen better for business boosts

How to listen better for business boosts

Posted 10th July, 2019 by Sarah

A lot of hot air blowing goes on in business. Buzzwords get batted around the boardroom like ping pong balls. There’s all sorts of ‘touching base’ ‘peeling the onion’ and ‘boiling the ocean’ that takes place on a day to day basis.

So, what happens when the soundtrack stops? What happens when you stop speaking and start listening?

In this blog, we’ll look at the art of listening, biases that can affect the way we listen, bad listening practices and how a culture of listening can benefit business, before moving on to consider a few techniques for listening better.

Listening as an art

Have you heard the phrase ‘in one ear and out the other’? It’s often used as a criticism for people who don’t listen. However, it’s actually the default setting for humans.

In the 1800s scientist, Hermann Ebbinghaus carried out a number of experiments into humans’ capacity to listen and retain information as a result.

He formulated The Forgetting Curve to convey his findings that humans tended to forget 50 per cent of what they hear after just an hour, a further third by the end of the day and up to 80 per cent within a month.

What implications does this have for businesses? Simply that, contrary to popular belief, listening isn’t as easy as it first seems.

Listening biases

As far as the human brain is concerned, listening is complex. Some of the processes that are hardwired inside our heads to help us listen can often stop us from listening, in some circumstances.

For example, we’re programmed to carry out ‘differencing’. This means that we listen to differences and discount sounds that remain the same. It’s the reason why you can tune out pink noise and also the reason why it’s easy to switch off during presentations and meetings.

Technology has also affected our ability to listen. Sound expert Julian Treasure explains that the fact that humans have invented ways of recording – first through writing and then through the likes of video – has reduced the premium of accurate listening.

Treasure also points out that technology has made people impatient. He says: “We don’t want oratory anymore, we want soundbites. The art of conversation is being replaced, dangerously I think, by personal broadcasting’.

The benefits of a listening culture for businesses

Bosses that listen to their employees and teams are said to:

• Be more trusted

• Be better at conflict resolution

• Enjoy better levels of employee engagement

• Be better at motivating their staff

The traits of a bad listener

Bad listeners are those who:

• Constantly feel compelled to interrupt people while they are talking

• Finish other people’s sentences for them

• Tune out from people who have different opinions or ideas to them

• Tune out from those who disagree with them

• Multi-task when attempting to listen to someone

• Match back – ie, make another person’s topic of conversation all about themselves. For example, someone is talking about climbing Snowdon and instead of asking for more details or information you talk about the time you reached Everest basecamp yourself.

So how do you improve your ability to listen?

The Mixer Technique

This technique, proposed by sound expert Julian Treasure, is designed to improve your ability to consciously listen. It involves paying attention to the quality of sound in a crowded place like a coffee shop. Instead of going into your default setting of tuning out all the noise, pay attention to it. See how many different channels of sound you can hear within the cacophony. Doing this on a regular basis should improve the quality of your listening, according to Julian.

Active listening

Active listening is a technique that requires the listener to fully concentrate when another person is talking and to respond in certain ways.

There are seven elements to the technique. These are:

  1. Be attentive: Ensure the person who’s talking knows you are taking a positive approach to what they have to say and are willing to listen.
  2. Ask open-ended questions of the person you are talking to: Examples include ‘what do you think about XX’ and ‘tell me about XX’.
  3. Ask probing questions throughout the conversation: Ensure you don’t cut the other person off though.
  4. Request clarification: This should help you retain more of what is being said.
  5. Paraphrase: Recap on the speaker’s key points occasionally to solidify learning and reaffirm their belief that you are committed to listening.
  6. Listen for expressions of feeling: This will help you better process the meaning behind the words.
  7. Summarise: Sum up what you’ve heard at the end of the talk to ensure you’ve understood.
Embracing silence

In the 21st century western world, nine out of 10 silences are experienced awkwardly. Psychologists suggest that this goes back to the early days of man when silences suggested social exclusion, which was a matter of life and death back then.

Today, however, silences can be golden, as The Tremeloes song suggested. Deploying silence in business has been linked to all sorts of positive outcomes.

Allowing silences to open up during meetings or one-on-ones can help ideas blossom. A recent Ink article pointed out that humans talk in paragraphs and, after completing one part of an explanation, they need to pause and organise their thoughts. This is usually the time where the person they are with pitches in with their own ideas.

However, if you allow the silence to swell before responding, research suggests that the person who is waiting for you to reply will try to fill the void themselves, and will often do so in surprising ways that can lead to deeper insight or greater clarification.

Embracing silence has also been linked to better deal making. Traditionally, deals are made through the back and forth of bartering. However, there’s evidence to suggest that leaving just 10 seconds of silence after receiving a counteroffer on a deal can be enough to make the other party reissue their deal.

Categories: Small Businesses

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