Listening is one of the most basic skills that you learn, but doing so effectively is sometimes easier said than done. The average person spends 45 percent of their time listening. Listening—not to be confused with hearing—is an active process that involves focusing on what the speaker is saying without other thoughts or distractions encroaching on the conversation.
Although it might be difficult to focus on what is being said, mastering the art of active listening is an essential skill, especially in a work environment. This skill benefits not only the employees, but the entire business as well. Being a person who is great at listening indicates strength and leadership. It also conveys that the individual cares and is trying to connect and engage with others.
The unfortunate reality is that many of us are poor listeners. With so many digital distractions at our fingertips, it can prove to be challenging to stay focused during a conversation. How often is communication hampered by this failure to pay attention? The answer is that it is too often. As a result, when communication suffers, customer service suffers.
In this article, we share how to improve your listening skills and provide outstanding customer service, each and every time.
What Are the Key Benefits to Active Listening?
Some benefits associated with active listening include building trust, improving teamwork, and developing relationships with customers and colleagues. When you try to understand the people you work with, morale and productivity can significantly increase. On the other hand, an unwillingness to listen to others has an adverse effect, which often results in conflicts within the workplace.
This mainly occurs when people feel misunderstood or mistreated by the people they work for or alongside. Mastering this skill isn’t easy, but when active listening becomes second nature, it deepens your relationship with others and allows you to make fewer mistakes. The same logic applies when you’re communicating with customers. By engaging in active listening, you can win over customers—even when you’re talking on the phone!
The 4 Steps to Effective Listening
If you’re looking for information on how to improve your listening skills, you can start by learning about the four components of listening, which are crucially important to remember and include in your daily habits in order to become a better listener.
1. Pay Attention
Focus all of your attention on the speaker, not just your eyes and ears. Listening is an entire-body experience.
Let the speaker know you are engaged in the conversation. In person, you can give encouraging nods and hand gestures that signal “tell me more” to show your interest. You can express interest on the phone by asking relevant follow-up questions, but only after the caller is finished speaking. Encouraging a speaker may seem challenging at times, especially as their topic seems to stray from your personal areas of interest, but failing to encourage a speaker can cause communication breakdowns and mishaps.
Ask the speaker “you” questions, as in questions about their topic. A “you” question focuses completely on the speaker and their point of view. Unlike engaging in a conversation, when one is listening, no “me” questions are allowed. “Me” questions are those that share your point of view or experience. This step ensures that you understand fully what the speaker is saying.
Tell the speaker what you heard. Don’t add your spin—again, this is not a time for a “me” focus; it should strictly be a “you” focus. Instead, just repeat what’s been said in your own words, reiterating the point you think the speaker was trying to make to ensure you’re following along.
Listening on the Phone: Why It’s So Hard
The four fundamentals are valid under any circumstances, but there are special challenges that arise when you’re listening to someone who isn’t physically in your presence. Listening on the phone presents greater challenges than listening in person, primarily because up to 93 percent of communication is nonverbal, and a great deal of communication is lost when you’re on a phone call, teleconference, or webinar.
Improving your on-the-phone listening skills comes down to paying attention. You can’t look at the other party when speaking on the phone, but you can avoid looking for distractions. Though many people pride themselves on their ability to multitask effectively, it’s simply not possible for an operator to be engaged with their caller when doing so. Although phone communication can be more challenging than talking in person, you can improve your etiquette (and, in turn, your customer service) by following a few dos and don’ts.
- Speak slowly and clearly
- Monitor your tone of voice
- Smile—yes, even on the phone!
- Take control of the call
Along with following these dos, you should always keep in mind the seven Ps of call handling excellence: being prepared, present, polite, patient, personable, professional, and proactive. And to avoid a poor call experience that has a negative impact on your business, steer clear of the following don’ts.
- Rush the caller
- Lack confidence
- Get distracted
- Forget quality checks
Tips for Improving Your Active Listening Skills
Active listening is the foundation for a successful conversation. Here are a few simple tips on how to improve your listening skills.
Practice Your Listening Skills
Practice makes perfect, and it’s no different when it comes to becoming a better listener. Practice drills are a great way to work on your listening skills. Here’s a practice drill focused on improving listening and phone etiquette.
For this drill, you’ll need a companion and a topic you can speak about enthusiastically for a few minutes. One person is the speaker; the other is the listener. The speaker talks for one minute about their topic while the listener actively ignores them:
- Do everything, aside from walking away or touching the speaker, to avoid listening to them.
- Do not say anything or respond to the speaker in any way, ignoring the speaker completely.
- After a few minutes, reverse the roles.
- Once both participants have tried both the listening and the speaking roles, reflect on how each of you felt during the drill.
Past participants have all agreed that this drill made them more aware of the importance of looking at the speaker while talking in person, and that, as a speaker, it is frustrating to be ignored. Just like keeping your eye on the ball while playing sports or keeping your eyes on the road while driving, an intense focus on listening is essential to success in serving customers in nearly every business endeavor.
Minimize Any Distractions
In order to maintain an intense focus, you need to minimize any distractions so you can truly pay attention to the speaker and what they are saying. Unless you are waiting on an important call, turn the ringer off on your phone to give the speaker your undivided attention. Tune out anything and everything that might divert your attention so you can focus on being present and actively listening to the person who’s speaking.
Never Interrupt the Speaker
Let the speaker finish what they are saying and save any questions or comments for later. If you cut them off, be aware of it and apologize. This can be difficult for some people, especially those who want to respond so they don’t forget after the fact. Also, if you don’t understand something, be sure to ask for clarification later—not while the other individual is still speaking.
Provide Verbal and Nonverbal Feedback
In person, it’s easier to provide feedback by supplementing verbal responses with nonverbal cues, such as a nod or a smile. However, it’s harder to do so over the phone—but that’s what separates the so-so listeners from the best. When talking on the phone, paraphrase what the person on the other end of the line has just said to show you’re engaged in the conversation.
Overcoming Distractions to Become a Better Listener
Communication without distraction is rare in our world today. Learning how to improve your listening skills may seem daunting, but in the customer service business, we must work hard to overcome distractions, use our listening skills, and be present in every conversation we have with our customers and colleagues.
Want to learn about how Dexcomm can improve your customer service call handling? Get in touch to learn about our unique approach to live answering services and how we can help take your business to the next level.