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Engaged Listening

Have you ever felt you were really listened to? I mean one of those moments when the other person seems riveted on your words – no looking at a watch, no changing the subject, none of those subtle clues of boredom like shifting in her seat or glancing away. It’s a great feeling isn’t it? It made you feel like you were – for those few moments at least – the center of the universe and, most important, you felt valued.

Your attentive listener was practicing what we call “engaged listening.” Not a passive “barely there” nodding and smiling, but a genuine engagement that signaled a sincere caring about what you had to say. Engaged listening is one of the most effective ways to communicate value. Although being engaged is as much a state of mind as it is an action, there are several ways that you can make this attitude known to those with whom you are talking.

1. When a team member presents an idea, ask follow-up questions. Resist the temptation to just nod and move on to the next agenda item. Regardless of the apparent worth of the idea, take a moment to acknowledge his or her effort. The best way to do this is to ask one or two follow-up questions. You might says something like “That’s an interesting idea, could you give me an example of what the end result might look like?”

Not only will this encourage the person to contribute more ideas, it will allow you to learn more about what he or she has to offer. No doubt we fail to take this simple step due to the chronic rush of the workplace, but the impact is the same: A team member left feeling devalued and disrespected and, worse, reluctant to voice ideas in the future. If that happens, everyone loses.

2. Admit if you don’t understand what has been said. To do otherwise sends the message to the speaker that you don’t care enough about what they are saying to put more effort into the conversation.

3. Minimize distractions. It is almost impossible to have a meaningful conversation with the office door open or in a public place where you are apt to be interrupted. If the conversation is particularly serious, turn off your phone and close your computer screen so there is less risk of being distracted.

4. Take notes. If appropriate, take notes while the person is speaking to show that you care about remembering what he or she is saying. Eliminate physical barriers.

5. Move from behind your desk. This symbolically – and physically – sends the message that you really want to connect to this person.

6. Reschedule if necessary. If you are too rushed to engage in a meaningful conversation, reschedule the meeting. It is more respectful to postpone the session than risk glancing at your watch or being distracted by your need to be elsewhere.

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  • Sondra Thiederman Sondra Thiederman is one of the nation′s leading experts on workplace diversity, cross-cultural business, and bias reduction. As President of Cross-Cultural Communications, a San Diego-based training firm, Sondra has 25 years experience as a speaker, trainer, and author helping professionals in Fortune 500 companies, public sector organizations, and dozens of associations find ways to successfully ... more

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