Listening: Stop Doing These 4 Things!

I was recently in a meeting where I couldn’t finish a sentence without being cut off. The offending party lacked the patience to let me finish a thought, persistently interjecting with her assumptions about what she believed the conclusion would be.

While I appreciate the human brain’s ability and penchant for prediction, and generally don’t mind the occasional finishing-of-my-sentences, her interruptions ultimately derailed the meeting. This got me thinking about two things: the importance of listening, and what it actually sounds like.

Interestingly, researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that listening well can actually “make other people better communicators too.” In the experiment, they found that when listeners are disengaged, the speakers are as well; but, when listeners show active signs of attention and interest, the speaker perks up, too.

This small bit of research has some pretty strong implications as to why leaders might want to focus on listening well. Leaders who listen develop better relationships with their team members, which fosters open, two-way communication. This then contributes to higher levels of productivity while also undermining a propensity for error that accompanies poor communication.

Listening is important, and most take it for granted that they know how to listen well. But, listening is the most overlooked aspect of communication. Because there is so much happening internally while listening well, there are a number of things that aren’t happening externally. Here are four things you don’t hear good listeners doing:

They rarely interrupt.

It is telling to consider why you or someone you are communicating with chooses to interrupt. Are you confused about what they are saying and, before they proceed, would like to ask for clarification? Well, that might be a great reason to interrupt. But, often when people interrupt it is to object to the point being made or add their own anecdote to the pot. Both of these are, frankly, unfair. For the objector, until you hear the entire point, you cannot know to what degree you agree or disagree. Let them finish what they are saying, they have a point. When they get to the point, then assess if you object. And for the excited, I-have-a-similar-experience to add offence, it is nice to connect through shared experiences. But, it is even nicer when you let the other person finish telling you about theirs first.

They don’t finish your sentences for you.

It requires patience to let people finish their thoughts, especially if you think you know where they are headed. But, letting them finish is important for them. It not only makes them feel heard, but, when you agree, it validates their idea. If you find you are frequently finishing others’ sentences, you aren’t listening for the sake of listening, but for the sake of speaking. Listen well and let them finish their own sentences.

They don’t respond immediately.

If someone is truly listening, they listen to all of the information being presented. This means they are listening through the last word spoken. If a listener responds immediately, it is safe to assume they drew their conclusions without including the last bit of information presented. Good listeners wait for all the information, take their time to process it completely, and then respond meaningfully.

They don’t snub.

Snubbing can come in many forms in the office. A good listener never texts, emails, surfs the internet, or does any other activities on any type of device while they are listening. The human brain quite literally cannot do two things at once. So, while they might be able to hear the words that are coming out of your mouth, you can rest assured that when someone is actively snubbing you, they are most certainly not actively listening to you.