You Can’t be Listening if You’re Always Interrupting

Did you hear what I just said? It would be an interesting exercise if a speaker stopped in the middle of her presentation and asked a member of the audience to repeat what she said. Most likely she’d get a blank stare in return.

That’s because most people aren’t listening. They are daydreaming or thinking about how much more important their ideas are.

Then there is always someone in the audience who feels compelled to interrupt the speaker with a question. But a question often turns into a long-winded statement with the questioner’s own point of view.

Do You Have Good Listening Skills?

Listening skills are essential to understanding and learning. Perhaps we can blame it on the web. These days we want information fed to us in short doses, as in 140-character tweets. It’s true that many speakers could be more concise and clear about the key points they want to make, so our minds don’t wander.

Nonetheless, it’s your responsibility to become a better listener at a conference or in a one-on-one conversation.

People often don’t listen because they are determined to get their own points across and are very closed off to what other people are saying.

You should be allowed to get in your key messages, but not by stepping on the other person’s end of the discussion. It has to be at the appropriate time.

Learning to Listen

Listening skills can be learned. It takes practice and a desire to show sincere interest in what the other person is saying.

You don’t want to come across as a know-it-all. That will not get you points if you’re at a client meeting or receiving instructions from your boss about a new project. A good rule is to listen — then speak.

Think about the last couple of meetings you attended. Were you completely focused on what the speaker said? Can you remember the three or four key points he made? Did you wait to speak your turn or did you interrupt when you felt like it?

If you answered “no” to these questions, then you need to sharpen your listening skills.

Becoming an Attentive Listener

Follow these tips to learn to become a more engaged listener:

  • Focus on the speaker. Really, really pay attention to what the speaker is saying. Look her directly in the eye. Force yourself to return to the conversation if you find your mind wandering. Take notes if that will help you to stay alert.
  • Don’t interrupt. If you find yourself interrupting before the speaker has finished his sentence, then the focus has shifted to you. You’re communicating to the speaker that your ideas are more important. Besides, it’s rude to interrupt.
  • Listen for key messages. Listen carefully for the key messages the speaker is communicating. You can also force yourself to stay focused by writing down each key message point as it is presented. This has the added benefit of preparing you for the questions you might want to ask.
  • Show that you are listening. If you are in a one-on-one meeting, acknowledge that you are listening through your body language. Nod your head in agreement. Smile. Lean forward. Every speaker wants acknowledgement of her key points. Don’t you?
  • Do your research. Before a meeting, do your homework and learn about the speaker and his subject matter expertise. This will help you to focus on the content and not the delivery. Your responses and questions will be more thoughtful. You will demonstrate that you were listening and have an understanding of the speaker’s talking points.
  • Ask smart questions. Note we said smart questions. You can show that you’ve been listening carefully by asking relevant questions – and not making a speech. Paraphrasing will ensure that you heard what was said. For example, you can say “What I heard you state was… so my question is …
  • Be prepared. Make it a habit to bring a pad and pencil or pen to every meeting. It will look unprofessional if you’re scrambling to find something to write on. It will be even easier if you own a tablet, such as an iPad, or Samsung’s Galaxy Note, to write on. Taking notes can actually enhance your listening skills.

It isn’t always easy to be a good listener. There are many things that can affect your ability to listen: the room may be too hot, or the audio system may be not be working properly. Always carry a bottle of water with you to rehydrate yourself if water is not offered or available.

Make an effort to get enough sleep the night before. No amount of practice will help you to listen attentively if you are so sleep deprived that you nod off right after the speaker’s introduction. If necessary, stand in the back of the room to stay awake.

Learning to be a good listener will pay dividends by increasing your knowledge of the topic. It doesn’t make sense to go to a meeting or to a presentation and not have any take-aways that you can use in your job or business. You’ve simply wasted your time and time is something that none of us have enough of!

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