Knowing When to Listen and When to Speak in the Workplace
In the business world, it is important to think and act in ways that make your speaker feel you are paying attention to what they are saying and to respond appropriately. This tells lets them know they are being heard and being understood, so that misunderstandings or misinterpretations do not occur.
It’s easy to give your undivided attention and actively participate in a conversation where the subject really interests us, such as during social gatherings, but at times during business meetings, for example, when the topic may not be personally stimulating, you may have to work on incorporating good listening skills.
Listening when we give our undivided attention refers to when you focus all of your attention on what the speaker is saying, and you are really hearing the message. Active listening can help you stay focused on what the speaker is saying, and can provide the speaker with appropriate feedback that keeps everyone on the same page.
It’s funny how sometimes what we think we hear and what the person really says can be very different! When we listen to someone, we tend to interpret things in ways that the speaker might not have intended, or we may make judgments about what they've said. These things can distort the actual message that the speaker is trying to convey.
Repeating back or summarizing important points the speaker makes will help ensure that you understand his message correctly.
Restate what you think you heard and ask, "Have I understood you correctly?",
“Am I correct in saying that you said ___?,
“Just so I understand you correctly, ____
Have a clear purpose for each meeting. When you are participating in a business meeting, you have to make some decisions as to what you want to get out of the meeting. What is the purpose of the meeting?
Are you there to brainstorm and exchange ideas?:
In many business meetings, you will be focusing on what people want, need or are offering. Part of the exchange should be to make sure you and the speaker are both on the same page, meaning that your interpretation of what they said is really what they meant to say.
Are you there to help build or boost your relationship with your clients or co-workers?:
When we know someone very well, we often have a better working relationship with them. Developing a positive working relationship is the number one goal, but may be difficult due to personal style differences. The bottom line is that good relationships must occur between employer-employee conversations, networking conversations, and effective team communication.
Do you want to feel positive?:
When you have a friendly, enjoyable, or positive talk with someone, it makes you feel good, respected, and motivated to do well.
Do you want others to feel positive?:
A good conversation will also make the other person or persons feel good about themselves and their work. This goes a long way in building positive, lasting relationships.
Communication Decisions: Is it time to talk or time to listen? In any good conversation, people take turns talking and listening. It is this exchange of information between the speaker and the listener that forms the basis for effective communication. How are you communicating? What is your style? Are your listeners perceiving you the way that you want them to?
When it is time to talk Expressing yourself involves much more than just saying words. Here are some guidelines you can follow to help you become a more effective speaker:
Avoid just blurting out what you want to say.
Just saying the first thing that comes to mind can have serious consequences. In this situation, you run the risk of saying something that might offend the other person, you might come across as negative, or you might say something you don't mean in the heat of the moment. In other words, think before you speak! Staying polite and making sure that we stay positive, even during a negative situation, takes some practice and thought, but is oh so very necessary!
Before you speak, plan what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.
Many times in the business world, it is the bottom line that people want to hear first. As a general rule, it is better to state the bottom line first to make things clear and then go into the details. This will depend, however, on the structure of the meeting, how much time you have, and the personal style of the person or persons to whom you are speaking. Plan your speaking strategy ahead of time, so that it is appropriate for each situation and team dynamics.
Don’t guess what you think your listeners want to hear and what they don't want to hear.
Know your audience and what needs to be said. Be concise, and stick to the point. Try to avoid going off-topic or getting distracted. If you get distracted and talk about irrelevant things during a meeting, it can be hard to get back on track. Also, your listeners are with you in a meeting for a purpose. When you start talking about irrelevant matters, then you are not only wasting other people's time, but you may be boring them, as well.
Can you tell when your audience is interested in what you are saying and when they aren't?
What you say and how you say it matters! If you keep your audience’s attention, they will let you know either verbally or with body language. The same goes for when they are not interested in what you say.
If they are interested, they will ask you questions or make comments to gather more information. They will smile at you, and look at you.
If they aren't interested, their body language will show you: they may look away, look down at the table, doodle, yawn, sit with their arms crossed, or frown, just to name a few.
When it's time to listen: Being a good listener doesn't come naturally to everyone. The good news is that it can be taught! Here are some guidelines you can follow to help you be a better listener.
Give the speaker your undivided attention. You are NOT giving the speaker your undivided attention if you are half-listening or thinking about other things.Here, you run the risk of missing important parts of what the speaker says, misinterpreting what they say, or offending them. Just by your expression they may be able to tell you aren’t really invested in what they have to say.
Let the speaker finish before you say something. We all know people who interrupt us when we speak, don’t let us finish a sentence, or seem to just want to hear themselves talk. Meetings can be much more positive and productive if you avoid judging, being critical, trying to insert your own personal experiences, trying to solve their problems, or making negative comments. If you agree with them, wait until they are done speaking before you use active listening and give them compliments.
It’s okay if you aren’t right all the time. Sometimes it’s nice to let other people have the attention and the limelight. Don’t feel as though you have to give your opinion or express your differences every single time you have a comment. Pick your battles. Be quiet sometimes and let the little things go. This will help you be a better listener.
Use body language effectively during face-to-face meetings: There has been a lot of research done on the importance of body language in communication. It is said that up to 90% of what we say is non-verbal. When listening to a speaker, make eye contact and smile, as these send positive messages. Avoid looking away, fidgeting, playing with your pen, or frowning, as these send negative messages.
Be an effective listener during a conference call: When you are in a conference call, you won’t, of course, have to worry about body language. The speaker must rely only on what they hear. Make sure that you are listening until they complete a thought and insert your comments when it is appropriate.
How much talking versus listening is appropriate? In the there should always be a give and take in a conversation. This give and take does not mean that each person has an equal time to speak, but that both parties are expected to contribute or participate verbally to some degree.
Don’t assume that you need to talk all the time.
Sometimes it's better to listen rather than to speak, even if you are running a meeting. While most people in leadership roles tend to feel that they need to speak more in order to feel important or be effective, effective listening often times creates better customer relationships, negotiating, and pretty much every business function.
For example, if you are a manager and are conducting a meeting and you do not want to micro-manage, let the team members discuss their progress on projects and make suggestions on what should come next. Listen to what they have to say and give them some ownership over what they are doing. Brainstorming and helping employees improve their performance by getting to know more about their job and providing them with suggestions on how to correct mistakes, for example, goes a long way. There is nothing worse than a manager who insists on micro-managing everything their team members do!
Active listening is a good thing!
Active listening is a great way to participate in a discussion without being overbearing. It can include comments regarding what speakers say or questions to gain more information or clarification.
Here are some examples of active listening:
I understand what you mean.
Thank you for your input.
That’s a good idea!
Yes, I agree.
Let’s talk about that some more.
Let’s talk about that after the meeting. I’d like to hear more about it.
That’s one way to look at it.
What does everyone think about John’s idea?
Do we want to put this idea on the table for this project?
Let’s do some brainstorming about how that might work.
That’s a good point. Let me elaborate on that a little.
Yes, I agree. I would also like to add ______.
What do you think about ______?
I understand what you mean. Have you considered ______?
I was wondering what you thought about _________.
This might be something for us to consider _____.
I think we can all agree on that.
Handling Interruptions Being interrupted: You must make a conscious decision, based on the specific situation, whether or not to let someone interrupt you or to complete your thought.
Generally in the American culture, it is generally more polite to let someone who interrupts you to state their ideas or opinions because we should assume that they have something important to say.
If you let someone interrupt you, you must decide whether to resume what you were saying when they are done or let it go.
If you want to resume what you were saying after the person is finished speaking, you can say things, such as the following:
I would like to add a couple of things to that.
Just to finish what I was saying_______.
Before we move on, I would just like to add a few comments.
I agree with what you said; I just have a couple of additional things to add.
I disagree. Our focus, as I was saying needs to be _____.
If I could just make a few additional remarks.
Good point. I’d also like to add_____.
I just have a couple more points I would like to make before we go on
Interrupting a speaker for off-topic remarks: Sometimes it may be necessary to interrupt a speaker if they are giving incorrect information regarding an important project, if they are rambling or off-topic, or if they get distracted and talk about something totally irrelevant. Comments you might make during these situations may include the following:
I think we are getting off the topic here.
I certainly understand what you are saying; let’s save that for another time.
We can certainly talk about that at our next meeting, if everyone agrees.
Let’s stay with the topic for now.
I’m not quite sure we are all on the same page here.
I’m not quite sure I understand what you are saying. Do you mean _________?
Interrupting a speaker when you have something important to say: There may be times when you need to add an important comment or ask a question about something that was said. When this situation arises, you use the following guidelines to help you interrupt in a polite way:
Always excuse yourself for interrupting and then say when you need to. Look at the following examples:
I’m sorry for interrupting, but could I just add one comment?
Excuse me for interrupting, did you mean_____________
I don't mean to interrupt, I just had one comment I’d like to add__
Asking for clarification: A great way to make sure you understand what the speaker means is to ask for clarification in a variety of ways. Let's look at the following example:
Are you saying _________?
Just to be sure I understand you correctly, are you saying that ______?
Just so there is no misunderstanding, you would like to _________.
Is this an accurate summary of what would you like me to do? ______
So, what you are saying is_________.
Learning when to listen and when to speak may very well be two of the most important communication skills to master in the business world. Watch and listen to what your colleagues, managers, and people around you do and say, and you’ll learn a lot about what to do and what to avoid!