I sometimes wonder if our loud and fast paced, multi-channel, social media-filled world isn’t creating ADHD in all of us. How often do you give only part of your attention to a conversation? When others share their thoughts, are you multi-tasking on your smart phone and checking the score on the big screen while looking at the menu?

On Facebook, I recently asked: “What advice would you offer a new manager that you wish someone had shared with you?” I received enough comments for ten blog posts. This one was from Dawna Clark who inspired this post: “Listen… actively… stay in check with your personal biases and focal points!”

In the spirit of transparency, I must say my listening skills suck, but I’m working on them. You might ask, “So… why are YOU writing about active listening?” That’s easy – I know what NOT to do. I’m constantly working on my listening skills, and the following has been helpful for me.

Put Your Mind in the Right Place

Whether you’re in a conversation or listening to a presentation, set the stage by considering what your purpose is. Are you there to learn? Do you want to know what the other person has to share? If you do all the talking, how will this be achieved? You already know what you know. Set your ego aside – this isn’t about who’s better, bigger, or more knowledgeable – it’s not a power struggle (or shouldn’t be). Accept idiosyncrasies – not everyone communicates as you do. Clear your mind of opinions and prejudges, take a few deep breaths, and listen.

Who, What, When, and Where

• Whenever possible, hold dialogues in a quiet place, free of distractions, and put interruptions on hold. Facing one another without obstructions, such as a desk, often leads to more open conversation.

• Quit thinking about what you want to say. Give the speaker the time to complete thoughts and pause between them. This is not the time to be formulating your response. You cannot fully listen if you’re talking to yourself in your head.

• Don’t interrupt — there’s no clearer proof of inattentiveness.

• It’s easy to be distracted. Maintaining eye contact may help you avoid being drawn away.

• Avoid emotion. This is not about you. It’s about learning what the other person has to share. Be a Vulcan – keep it logical.

• When you’re uncertain of what was said, restate what you heard as a question. For example, “If I understand what you’re saying it’s…”

Listening has never been easy or simple, but today, it may be more difficult than ever. Developing active listening skills takes hard work, practice, and patience. And in our modern mobile world, it means occasionally unplugging as well. Take the time to listen, make the world a little quieter for a short time – you never know what you might learn.

What have you learned about listening? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments. If you’d like more on this topic, Study Guides and Strategies offers valuable insights. You also may enjoy Leadership Means Putting Others First.

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