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3 Ways to Improve Listening Skills During Meetings

Friday, May 20, 2016 - 09:00
Listening in Meetings

Listen Up: most likely you don’t listen as well as you could. A common thread weaved throughout this blog over the past year has been the findings of a study by the staffing firm Robert Half. Researchers asked:

“In general, what percentage of the time you spend in meetings is wasted?”

The average response was 25%, which means that on average, 15 minutes of every hour-long meeting is a waste of time in the minds of attendees.

Meeting Leaders Can't Force People to Listen

If you’ve been following along, we’ve offered organizers of these maligned meetings multiple ways of coping with this feedback – from honing your time-management techniques to brightening your mindset, and from your choice of words to the manners you practice.

Each of those posts focused largely on meeting leaders. Now, the time has come to turn the tables. Perhaps participants should shoulder some responsibility for the productivity of meetings. If attendees aren’t finding value in the content of a conference call or web session, maybe they aren’t listening effectively.

Are Meeting Attendees Listening Effectively?

There’s ample evidence to support the contention that most of us don’t listen as well as we believe we do. For example, researchers at Wright State University surveyed more than 8,000 people from various vertical industries; nearly all respondents rated their own listening abilities as good as or better than their co-workers. Yet, informal observation may suggest these statistics are more aspirational than actual.

In a column for Fast CompanyArt Markman, PhD, a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin writes:

“Next time you’re at a meeting when you are not a central participant, take a couple of minutes and watch some of the other people at the table. Most of them won’t even look like they are listening carefully. Some are fidgeting in their seats. Some are checking their email under the table. Few of them are really listening to what is going on around them.”

Adds management guru Ken Blanchard in his How We Lead blog:

“Our research shows that listening is a critical skill for developing people, building trust, and creating a meaningful connection.”

But few of us invest as much time and effort into how we absorb business information in meetings as we do into how we convey it. Present blogger included.

Best-selling author Dr. Travis Bradberry offered some listening advice in one of his regular posts for LinkedIn Pulse:

“Effective listening is something that can absolutely be learned and mastered. Even if you find attentive listening difficult and, in certain situations, boring or unpleasant, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”

Thanks to the counsel of our quoted listening professionals, Markman, Blanchard and Bradberry we have gleaned some helpful insightes into how you can become a better listener in any setting. But especially in meetings.

1. Be Patient & Hold Your Tongue

“It might seem that your role in a conversation is to think about your reaction to what has been said so far, and plan what you are going to say next,” Markman writes. But, he explains, there are two problems with this approach in business settings: The first is the planning in your head distracts you from listening fully to the other person; and, the second is you become focused on your own perspective instead of the speaker’s point. Let the other person completely finish talking, Markman recommends: “By trying to understand the context in which someone else makes a remark, you can often get a deeper understanding of the issues they are facing.” In turn, you make better use of the time you spend together in the meeting.

2. Ask Questions When it's Your Turn to Speak

“This is not about interrogation or control,” Blanchard says. “Use well thought out questions to seek information, opinions, or ideas that will help you understand the person while helping them feel heard.” Pose open-ended questions to encourage communication, he suggests, clarifying questions to check for understanding, and prompting questions to encourage deeper thinking. All of these methods enrich discourse and deepen the value of time spent in meetings of any kind for any purpose.

3. Playback What you Heard for Affirmation

Bradberry advocates a strategy called “reflective listening”: Paraphrase the meaning of what a speaker just said to the group in your own words. This response helps you verify that your interpretation of the information is correct and affords the speaker an opportunity to clarify points. This interchange increases the likelihood that all participants – in the room or participating virtually – gain a better understanding of the business at hand. In short, reflective listening increases the value of meeting content for all.

A common thread in the wisdom imparted by Markman, Blanchard and Bradberry is the best way to derive value from meeting time is to listen actively for it.  Many presenters have tricks to improve their speaking skills, do you have any that help you listen better, or retain information better?  Let us know, we’re all ears. 

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