Meetings – if they’re not a waste of time, they’re just plain boring. Unless the presentation is TED-worthy, you likely find yourself daydreaming, checking social media, or drifting off to sleep in the back of the room.
While it’s definitely hard to survive meetings, the information being discussed is still important for you to absorb. Much of your work depends on what is said inside the meeting room. In order to retain all this information, you must become an active listener – mentally and verbally confirming what the speaker has said and processing it in your own way.
It’s easy to be an active listener, but it takes practice. Here are 12 ways to hone those listening skills.
- Look at the Agenda Beforehand
Writer Michael Hyatt says, “Agendas should always be circulated in advance of the meeting, so that people know what to expect and how to prepare.”
If you’re lucky enough to receive a crisp, organized agenda before the meeting, don’t just toss it aside. Make sure you give it at least a quick look before entering.
You won’t be able to listen if your mind is racing a mile a minute. You could be thinking about something as trivial as what’s for lunch, or panicking about a deadline, but those things should be put aside in the meeting space.
Clear your head, turn off your smartphone, and prepare to focus on only the speaker.
- Pay Attention
You learned all the way back in high school that spacing out was never a good idea. That carries over into the working world, too. If your thoughts drift during the meeting, you’re not going to remember anything – and that could come back to hurt you later.
There’s a simple fix for this: Keep yourself as aware as possible. Look at whoever is speaking so you won’t be tempted to glance at your computer or the doodles on your paper. Be aware of the way your body reacts to what is said in the meeting, mentally and physically. This can help you put your opinion into the discussion, whether it be an idea or a question.
- Use Body Language
How would you feel if you were giving a presentation and looked up from your notes to find blank stares, slumping postures and dead silence? Meetings shouldn’t be zombie conventions. This works both ways. When you’re the one listening, you need to let the presenter know.
Body language works wonders. Nodding lets the presenter know that you understand what they’re saying. An open posture – sitting up straight, arms uncrossed, head turned toward the speaker – shows you’re open to communicate.
Also, don’t look so glum. It’s a meeting, not the end of the world. Smile! Nothing is worse for a presenter than talking to a bunch of frowns.
- Leave Judgments Aside
No matter how much we try to respect others, sometimes it’s hard to see them positively. Whether it’s the co-worker who always hogs the copy machine or the one who chews their pencils like a wood chipper, people’s mannerisms and habits can make others irritable.
Everyone is guilty of these thoughts, but it’s best not to let them influence your actions or interactions. Interrupting, sneaking comments or any other rude behavior won’t win you any brownie points at work. Instead, you should …
- Keep Your Mind Open
Make an attempt to be impartial and put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. Even if you don’t agree with their ideas, looking at a situation from their point of view might make you realize something new.
Conflict-Resolution and Prevention Specialist Mary Rafferty offers this suggestion: “Rather than seeing yourself as a fixer/problem-solver, see your role as one of providing parties with space and empathy to help them move forward in how they are thinking…”
Ask yourself what you can learn as the person is speaking. Not only will this further your engagement in the meeting, but there’s a good chance you’ll get some important takeaways.
- Check for Ideas, Not Words
Anyone can just sit there and take in words, but most of the time they just go in one ear and out the other. It’s hard to piece together what was said at the meeting if you were processing words and not ideas.
Concentration is key when it comes to linking bits and pieces of information together into logical connections, but it’s key to being a good listener.
- Take Notes
It’s a well-known fact that writing things down helps you remember them. A study by Vaiva Kalnikaitŏ & Steve Whittaker of The University of Sheffield revealed that taking high-quality but brief notes is better for memory than large masses of notes. That’s why we bring shopping lists to the supermarket and write short memos on the fridge. It’s also how we survived our schooling.
The same goes for meetings. Just make sure you don’t get distracted if you choose to take them electronically.
- Involve Yourself in the Conversation
Active listening involves questioning and fact-checking the speaker. This shows you’re paying attention to what they’re saying, and that you’re curious and open to their ideas. Don’t be afraid to say what’s on your mind. You can turn a boring old meeting into a highly involved conversation with just one question.
This still doesn’t mean you should interrupt the speaker or talk over them, though. Remember that patience you learned as a kid.
- Give Appropriate Feedback
When you’re an active listener, you’re putting yourself in a position of respect and understanding. Putting down or attacking a speaker in your feedback will make all that listening go to waste.
Nancy Sommers of the Harvard Graduate School of Education said feedback works best when it is an open collaboration between two people who treat each other as scholars. While she was referring to the relationship between teachers and students, this philosophy can apply to the workplace, as well.
It’s important to be honest in a response, but to do so in an appropriate manner. If you have opinions to assert, make sure you do so respectfully. The Golden Rule applies here!
- Summarize What Was Said
When the meeting has finished, take a few minutes to wrap up all the important points that were covered. You may leave the meeting thinking you’ll remember everything, but you’re sadly mistaken. (See the last tip for proof.)
While the ideas are fresh in your mind, get them down on paper. You’ll be glad you did. In case you’re uncertain about your summary …
- Confirm With a Group
If you missed something, your colleagues can come to your aid. Hopefully they were taking notes too – but this doesn’t give you an excuse to zone out! Ask a co-worker or a group of co-workers to stay behind after the meeting to summarize and review takeaways. Figure out the key points of the meeting and determine where to go from there. You can even follow-up with the speaker with a summary of the key points and action points to get the discussion going.
By implementing these small techniques, you’ll be an expert listener in no time. Have any more suggestions for listening skills? Questions or comments about active listening? Share in the comments!