Whether in personal life, at work or in a business setting, one cannot communicate unless one listens.
We think that listening is easy and that we do it everyday, indeed we do, but what is it that we register when we have a discussion with friends, partner, colleagues or potential clients ? Do we really understand what the person we have in front of us,on the phone or on a virtual conference is telling us?
There are many factors that can hinder active listening, these can be: a noisy surrounding, a bad telephone or virtual line, multi-tasking (some may agree and others disagree), the language barrier, our personal bias toward the discussion, our personal preference and many more, I am sure you can come up with other distracting factors.
The biggest mistake we do when we communicate with others is that because they speak the same language we assume will understand each other ! unfortunately it is not always the case as we can speak the same language but if we speak with someone who´s native tongue is not the one used we may lose a vital point and that may lead into miscommunication or even conflict.
When we say we can be biased by our personal preferences it can be true. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and focused so much on what you wanted to say and wanted to sell that you completely lost the message of your counterpart? This can be fatal in business, indeed what we want to achieve in business is good relationships and a contract. How do you want to have a contract if your customer thinks and feels that you do not listen to him and thus do not understand his needs ?
This happens also in teams, because there are many members, one has to be able to listen and get what every member has to say and how they want to proceed. If one member feels left out, the worst case scenario would be that he isolates him/herself and may create group noise. Such a distraction could be fatal to the productivity of your team.
So how can we improve our listening skills ? how can we master the power of listening ?
First identify what your personal preferences are, if you like to talk a lot, work on developing your listening skills by reducing the amount of information you deliver, and open yourself to your counterpart. Ask questions that will help you understand his/ her needs better, practice active listening by reformulating what you have heard and making sure that you are on the same wave length.
Second, if you are speaking to a non native speaker, ask questions, reformulate your questions if you feel that you were not understood, repeat what you have heard, observe the body language (a smile may signal that you are on the right track). Indeed in certain cultures (mostly indirect cultures), half of the message will be transmitted through body language so it is important that you not only listen with your ears, but also with your eyes.
Lastly, you can practice at home with your partner or your friends, ask them for feedback, see if you have gotten their message, see if you understand what it is they want and if they have gotten their point across. This will enable you to be more in tune with your business partners (and team members) and make them feel understood and especially show them that you know what they need and can provide them with the product/ service that best suits them and their expectations.