Why being a better listener is key to remote working success

Look, listen and learn. Discover how elevated listening skills can transform your working relationships, both remotely and in person

Most people have an average attention span of just eight seconds before their minds start to wander, according to a study by Microsoft. And, with the advance of technology and endless electronics to distract us every minute of every day, it’s no surprise that it’s getting harder than ever to be truly attentive when people speak.

“We are living in a time when it’s more challenging to be consistently aware and intentional because so many things are demanding our attention,” says Scott Eblin, author of Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, in an interview with Fast Company. “Our brains haven’t caught up to the technology that’s feeding them and the impact of this leaves people in a chronic condition of fight or flight.”

As the world pivots to working from anywhere (WFA), it’s more important than ever to polish our listening skills in order to reduce misunderstandings, build relationships and even increase productivity.

Learn the art of listening well

Good listening is about more than just nodding and not interrupting. When you’re a leader, it can be the difference between making employees feel respected and part of the team, or making them feel invisible. Your goal is to make every person you deal with come away feeling as if they’ve been heard.

The simplest way to improve your listening skills involves a three-pronged approach. First, pay attention, silently but actively – which means keeping some eye contact and nodding in the appropriate places. Second, repeat what’s been said to show you’ve been taking in what the other person has said. Finally, ask open-ended questions to demonstrate that you’ve processed what you’ve heard.

Listen without agenda

In Listen to Succeed, author Leslie Shore says that the hardest part of listening effectively is waiting for the pause at the end of a sentence before replying. Many of us are guilty of thinking about our reply before the other person has stopped speaking, so we lose focus on what’s being said.

And focus is especially important when dealing with people remotely. It’s all too easy to feel disengaged with the person on the other end of the video or phone call. When we don’t have face-to-face conversations, nuances and signals can be missed or misconstrued, so listening mindfully becomes even more important.

We often have an agenda when speaking to others – whether that’s trying to get our point across, or trying to get someone to do what we want. However, if you want to listen well, try to leave this agenda to one side. Speaking to The New York Times, Narinder Singh, co-founder of tech firm Appirio, says he tries to think of every conversation he has with someone as an opportunity not to push his own agenda, but to learn something. “When you meet somebody, pull every piece of insight you can out of them,” he says.

Lock in to listen remotely

When you’re in conversation via a screen, you have to use your listening skills in a different way. Schedule calls or video chats when there are no distractions. And don’t multitask. While it can be tempting to check your phone or emails during a call, any distraction will result in not hearing (or seeing) everything that’s being said.

Remember, proper listening creates an environment where people feel valued. And when your team knows that you’ll listen to them without judgement or interruptions, they’ll be much more likely to come to you with any issues or concerns.

Did you enjoy this article? You might also like these other Spaces magazine stories:
How to defuse irritation while working from home
Want to be more productive? Here’s what you should listen to

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