Listening Skills

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Updated October 11, 2022

Most people assume that communicating is all about how you write and speak to other people, but that’s only half the story. Communication also requires you to listen to other people’s thoughts, ideas, and concerns, and that’s equally as important for collaborating and working well with others.

Just as it can be frustrating when you feel like you’re not being heard, your teammates, coworkers, clients, and customers will also feel frustration if you don’t listen to what they have to say. Building rapport with others requires mutual respect between all parties, and everyone’s thoughts should be taken into consideration with equal weight. Other people’s opinions matter just as much as yours do, so make sure to listen to what they have to say.

So, what can you do to become a better listener?

Reflective Listening

One of the easiest things you can do is to practice reflective listening. The whole idea of reflective listening is quite simple. First, listen to the speaker and try to understand their ideas, then try to paraphrase the idea back to them. You don’t have to repeat what they said word for word, but try your best to summarize their ideas in order to confirm that you understood them correctly.

While it may feel silly at first, there are a few benefits to reflective listening:

  • It shows the speaker that you’re listening. This goes a long way in building mutual trust with the speaker.

  • It helps to point out any misunderstandings, because they will be apparent in your summary that you repeat back. It will also help the speaker formulate and clarify their ideas.

  • It will help you embrace the speaker’s perspective without forcing you to necessarily agree with it. It helps open up your own opinions to new ideas without having to commit to them.

  • It’s especially helpful when discussing business processes and procedures from other organizations within the company. For example, if you’re working on a project to integrate two systems, it will be easier if you have a holistic view of how they work. Ask the speaker to explain the processes you’re tasked with automating, and repeat it back to them to make sure you understand it correctly.

  • It will help you clarify assumptions during the requirements gathering phase when planning new features and projects.

Reflective listening is a technique you can put to use today that will automatically improve your communication skills, and chances are you may already be doing it to some extent. As always though, be careful of using this technique too much or going too far with it, as it can come across fake or forced.

Prepare for Meetings

Not all meetings are created equal. While your daily stand-up meeting may not seem too important, you will be in other meetings where crucial decisions are made. Depending on the topic of the meeting, it may be worth your time to prepare so you have an idea of what you want to communicate before you need to. That may involve scanning your project management board to remember what you worked on yesterday, reading through the codebase to refresh your memory about how a particular component works, or reviewing documentation for potential third-party services.

You may be called upon in the meeting to give your opinion or your input on how a particular part of the system works and how easily it can be extended. If it’s not fresh in your mind, it may be hard to give a complete answer during the meeting when everyone is relying on your input. By preparing ahead of time, you will be able to give an answer confidently so that important decisions can be made.

It’s also good to go into meetings with a list of predetermined questions you’d like to have answered. Don’t assume that everyone is on the same page about how easy or hard some change will be, or how the change should be made. Oftentimes, other people haven’t considered a solution you may be asking about, so asking the question can be helpful to others as well as yourself.

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