May I Have Your Attention?



The fine art of listening-We are all used to multi-tasking and pride ourselves on being able to accomplish numerous things at once. However, to be a good listener, particularly in the workplace, we have to truly focus on our conversational partner(s).

Here are some things to keep in mind to ensure that we are listening as carefully as possible:

1. Timing is everything: Don’t start a conversation when you have to dash out the door to a meeting in 3 minutes. Allow yourself 15-20 minutes when you can devote the necessary time and attention to the conversation.

2. Select a private and quiet place: Close the door to your office, or go for a walk around the perimeter of the building. That way you won’t have to worry about co-workers eavesdropping at inopportune moments.

3. Be open-minded: You may have strong opinions, but make a conscious effort to hear alternative viewpoints and ideas.

4. Observe non-verbal cues: Look at the speaker, which will help you "read" any non-verbal communication (impatience, distractibility, annoyance).

5. Minimize distractions: Turn off phones and beepers (or put on vibrate), and have portable devices and computers out of reach, and out of immediate view. It is just too tempting to quickly check messages and e-mails.

5. Write it down: Keep a pen and pad handy to keep notes, if appropriate.

6. Keep the conversation going: Maintain good eye contact, nod your head, smile and lean slightly toward the other person to convey interest.

7. Provide verbal/vocal feedback: Demonstrate that you are following the conversation. Use phrases such as, "I see," "I understand," "So what you are saying... ," or "um-hmm."

8. Be honest: If you don’t understand what is being said, or the message behind it, don’t nod as if you are following. Be direct and honest. Use phrases such as, "I’m not following, you," "I don’t understand," "Can you explain what you mean?", etc.

9. Probe: Ask Wh- questions to encourage the speaker to share more information. For example, “What part of the proposal needs editing?,”vs. “Do you like the proposal?”

10. Time’s up: End the conversation clearly vs. just drifting off. Have some closure, including a summary of what was discussed. For example, “I am happy that we had a chance to review the preliminary outline. I will get back to you before the end of the day with my revisions.”

For more information about communication skills in the workplace, contact