JW Way Fundamental #5: Listen Fully. "Listening is more than simply not speaking. Give others your undivided attention. Set aside your own judgments and preconceived notions. Listen with focus. Most importantly, listen to understand."
COVID-19 has brought many new challenges to the way we communicate with our coworkers, clients, families, and friends. Never has listening been more important than it is now. We are all striving to find ways to adapt and connect. When we connect in person, we can practice active listening by looking the speaker directly in the eyes and picking up on nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language. Now that most of us are not meeting in person, it is often more challenging to be an active listener. However, we can take steps to listen more fully, even in video conferences or telephone calls.
When on a video call, it is easy to tell when a participant is checking email, their phone, or is otherwise not engaged. Doing so sends a message to the speaker that you are not listening, and that you are choosing to focus your attention elsewhere. You can let the speaker know that you are listening by remaining focused and being cognizant of where you are looking. Be aware of where your video camera is located. If you look directly into your camera, it appears that you are making eye contact with others. This will send a message to the speaker and other participants that you are attentive. Another way to actively listen while on a video-conference is to look directly at the speaker, which allows you to read facial expressions and some body language. You likely cannot look directly at your camera and the speaker at the same time, so you may need to alternate or decide which method is most appropriate given the situation. For instance, when listening to understand someone, you may find it most helpful to look at the speaker so you can pick up on non-verbal cues. However, if you want to acknowledge a comment made by the speaker, you may want to look directly at the camera so the speaker feels heard and understood.
Telephone conferences pose their own set of problems. Without the advantages that come with seeing each other or your clients, you are forced to rely solely on your sense of hearing to be an active listener. It can be easy to lose focus and let your mind wander. Taking notes during the phone call can help you remain focused, and will likely come in handy later. Jot down points of agreement or disagreement, questions that need to be answered, tasks and persons responsible for them, and any other information you feel is important or keeps you focused. Do not be so concerned with coming up with the perfect response that you do not listen fully. A speaker would rather feel understood than receive a quick response. Listen both for what the speaker says, and what the speaker does not say. Both can be equally as important.
Finally, whether you are communicating in person, by telephone, or by video call, take a few minutes to ask others how they are doing, and actually listen to their responses. If someone relays personal information, such as an ill family member, or a child's accomplishment, make a note of it. One of the best ways to show someone that you were fully listening is to remember the things that are most important to that person, even if they were not the main focus of the meeting or call.
As we fumble through Zoom meetings, conference calls, and video happy hours, one of the most important things we can do to work toward positive outcomes in our professional and personal lives is to listen fully.