OK, so you’re probably a virtual meeting ZOOMbie at the moment, like the rest of us..I feel EXACTLY the same way! It can feel like an endless process of going from one meeting to the next.
So how can we improve our listening skills for virtual and face to face meetings?
Whether they’re virtual or face to face, we all want LESS meetings, and/or shorter, more powerful meetings. To achieve this, you’ll really need to ask yourself, “How can I practise listening?” If we can get the listening part right, then we’re halfway there. As for the speaking part – That’s a whole other blog post.
How you can improve your listening skills
Here are a couple of pointers that could help you and your organization develop better LISTENING skills and make your meetings more powerful and on point Let’s break these pointers up into 2 parts:
2. During meeting
- Make sure that you have a break before the meeting starts. Sounds simple right? A simple company-wide adjustment could be to finish ALL meetings 5-15 minutes before the hour, to allow people to take a sensory break. Your eyes and ears need a break, otherwise they’ll get fatigued.
- When you do take that break, DON’T look at a computer screen. Really give your eyes and ears a break; look at, and do something else.
- Use a good quality headset (if you can afford one) – make sure it covers both ears, and if possible, has some sort of noise cancellation. For instance, I use a ‘Jabra EVOLVE 75’ headset which has active noise cancellation on the earpieces. It helps to block out ambient noise and keeps me more in tune to what is being said.
- For face to face and virtual meetings – Switch your phone off, switch off all social media alerts, log out of Facebook, Linkedin, or whatever popups might interfere with your concentration. I have a short attention span, so this is critical for me!
During The Meeting
- For face to face and virtual meetings – face the speaker and look into their eyes. This indicates interest, it makes you look more charismatic as you are elevating the speakers status; you are, in effect, saying, “You are interesting!” If you look away when somebody is talking or are doing something else, it indicates that you are not listening or are not interested, and that the speaker isn’t that interesting or valuable. In the case of a virtual meeting, switch your webcam ON and look into the green/red dot of where your webcam is situated.
- If you have trouble looking into the webcam, perhaps make a small paper face and place it around the webcam or put a picture of a loved one or somebody you really like or are attracted to. This will help you focus your attention and help your listening and indicate to the presenter that you are an interested and active listener.
- Don’t interrupt the speaker mid-sentence – This is highly off-putting and communicates that your ideas are more important than theirs. If you must interrupt, wait for the speaker to pause and then ask a question. It could be that you could raise your physical or virtual hand, which also indicates respect.
- Develop an open-mind, inner smoothness, and be receptive to what is being said – If you’re a Judging John and discount or discredit what is being said in your mind, you might not get the full picture. In addition, if you judge too quickly or too early, you’re not being receptive to subsequent arguments or points which may enhance or embellish previous points the speaker has made.
Only after you have heard the full point or discourse and clarified its meeting for yourself, should you take a mental position. Make your decision based on the complete picture before shooting down every point a speaker makes.
- Non-verbal cues – It is a well-known and accepted fact that our non-verbal cues like body language and tone of voice communicate FAR MORE about our mental state than our words can ever do. According to well-known research by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, when it comes to communicating our attitudes and feelings, our body language communicates 55% of this, our tone of voice 38%, and our words 7%. So if you are in a face to face meeting, be aware of body language and tone of voice as they will often convey the truth – you need to really “listen” to these.
In a virtual meeting, what you could do is – ask a colleague to monitor all webcams and chats, to give you feedback on a private channel as to what is going on. For instance, if Mrs Smith looks disinterested on the webcam and she hasn’t given any feedback to date in the meeting, then your colleague could message you on another communication channel and inform you that Mrs Smith needs to be pulled into the discussion more. On most meeting platforms, you can “private chat” but this is risky as you might send the wrong message to the group. Perhaps have a virtual meeting whatsapp line/number on which to communicate or use Slack or something appropriate.
- Take notes – Finally, if you suffer from ADD or have a short attention span like me (I am notorious for jumping all over the place), then take some notes in a book or on a piece of paper. Actually write something down, it will keep your hands busy and force you to listen to what is being said.