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Shhhh! Sharpen your listening skills with 5 simple steps

August 23, 2012

During my first few months at MarketWave, I heard what has become a bit of a legendary story. The short version: Tina was on a conference call with some engineers from a client company discussing how hackers could sit outside of a company’s building and literally break into its network from the parking lot using homemade devices as simple as stuff they would find at Radio Shack. As she listened, she put the call on mute and voiced the term “drive-by hacking” to our team. The phrase not only attached a memorable phrase to the issue, but sparked a story angle, which our firm later pitched and landed on CNN.

The story stuck with me, serving as a reminder that great ideas can sometimes come from unlikely places and that active listening can really pay off. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, like other skills, we have to hone and develop our ability to actively listen and process information.

Here are five guidelines I tend to follow:

  1. Believe in the benefits. Improving relationships, gaining insight, improving clarity, sparking new ideas and learning something new.
  2. Focus and re-focus. It’s so easy to get distracted. Have the walls always been that color? Why do these people keep walking by? Ugh, I need to reschedule that doctor’s appointment. Put all other thoughts aside and stay in the moment.
  3. Get engaged. Ask relevant questions, provide feedback when appropriate and paraphrase what you’ve heard when necessary.
  4. Show respect. Resist the urge to cater to your phone. Don’t interrupt – it’s so rude. Treat others like you’d like to be treated. I know – sounds like advice you’d give a five-year-old (I speak from personal experience).
  5. Use body language. Show that you’re listening by giving good eye contact, leaning forward slightly or nodding.

How do you sharpen your active listening skills?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2012 5:02 pm

    Agreed, and I’d add that knowing how another person wants you to listen matters a lot. We too often listen to others if they are like us and ignore those who are different. My Listening Golden Rule is: Listen Unto Others as They Would Have You Listen to Them.

  2. August 23, 2012 4:36 pm

    Great post, Dione. This is an area I struggle with. One small thing I have learned to do, in the same vein as putting away your phone, is shutting my laptop so emails don’t distract me. It’s helped a lot!

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