The 5 Tricks To Becoming A Stellar Listener at Work

Written by Tabitha Farrar

Whenever we talk about becoming better listeners, it’s usually in the context of friends and family.

But what about communication at work?

It’s as if being busy at work is glorified, and we’re allowed — rewarded even — for hiding behind our screens.

Oftentimes, being busy is nothing more than a way to rationalize being a bad listener. People in the office are too consumed with their own projects, problems, and projections to give others the attention they deserve.

Here are some telltale signs that it’s time to become a more mindful listener at work:

  • You had a conversation with the person who sits next to you this morning and realized about ten minutes in that you had no idea what they had been saying.
  • A colleague asked you if you wanted to take a walk to go get coffee recently and you said, “No, I’m too busy.”
  • You answer anything between 10 to 300 emails during a meeting.

I’m guilty of a few of these, too.

At work, I often judge my own value based on my level of busyness, so listening to others and making polite conversation are somewhere way down on my “to do” list — probably sitting between remember to go to at least one yoga class a week and booking a dentist appointment.

Being present is a quality that’s not just reserved for your social life.

But lately, a shift in workplace culture has inspired me to change.

I recently got a job at a tech startup in Boulder, Colorado, and all of my new colleagues are active listeners. My co-workers and I are actively encouraged by our CEO to shut down our laptops in meetings and focus on the people in the room. Radical or what? I’m finding that I now need to make a U-turn to adjust to this new, more open space.

Here are five tips that are helping me do it. Keep them in mind to become a better listener at work yourself. After all, bad listeners make bad teammates, too!

1. Stop doing too much.

You’re not impressing anyone with that anymore. Prioritize the hell out of your to-do list, get it done, then lift your head and invite someone out for coffee or a walk around the block.

Try to start carving out 20 minutes in your afternoon and scheduling in a walk with a colleague. If you do this a few afternoons a week, within a couple of months you’ll have spent some quality time with a number of colleagues that you may never have had the opportunity to get to know otherwise. You'll also benefit from the fresh air and exercise!

2. Don’t. Ever. Multitask.

Stop kidding yourself — humans are horrendous multitaskers. This is actually scientifically proven; one study showed that people who tried to do more than one thing at a time suffered from a reduced ability to concentrate on the task at hand, and were more prone to distraction. If you are writing an email in a meeting, you are 100 percent not listening to whoever is talking. Do one thing at a time, and do it well.

3. Get over wanting to look busy.

That means you can stop pretending to be doing something frightfully important on your phone the next time you pass a colleague in the hallway. Try looking up, smiling, and saying hello instead. This can be a massive comfort-zone shaker, but you can do it — you’re a professional!

4. Inquire.

Good listeners ask good questions. If you’re not used to doing this, try to think up a few questions to ask the next time you’re talking to a colleague. You’ll probably learn a lot from their answers — about them, their role in the company, and what you two have in common.

5. Go device-less.

Seriously. Block out an hour in your schedule to put your phone on silent, close your laptop, and do something that doesn't require a screen. A study by Microsoft found that device-related distractions have lowered our attention spans from an average of 12 seconds to just 8. That’s shorter than the attention span of a goldfish!

Fostering real connections with those around you will undoubtedly make you enjoy work more and show you that being present is a quality that’s not just reserved for your social life.

Looking for more tips on how to be a thoughtful communicator and listener? Take a peek at these resources:

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