Listening Skills, Workplace Skills

Becoming an Active Listener

Memorization plays an important part in our ability to remember God’s instructions. Unfortunately, it isn’t very practical when it comes to the orders given by our earthly employers. Most bosses don’t have the time to wait for us to commit their commands to memory and, if we don’t want to lose our jobs, we don’t either. If we’re going to carry out their instructions both effectively and efficiently, we need to master the art of “active” listening. And this requires focus.

I probably don’t have to point out that for many of us, focus is not our default setting. Monotone speeches, warm rooms, and entertaining side-bar conversations all have the potential to distract us. Give us a second to glance through the window and our attention has shifted from where we are to where we’d rather be. Tell us something that merely sounds like something we’ve heard before and we immediately zone out. Fighting this default can prove to be quite a challenge, so here are a few tips to help you stay on task when your boss is delivering his directions:

  1. Take notes. It sounds a bit old school, but a pocket notebook and a pencil can go a long way towards helping you remember key points – like which project your boss wants you to finish first or exactly where on the sales floor he’d like to see that new display.
  2. Listen with intention. The human brain is capable of processing information at a much higher speed than the mouth is able to present it. The result is that many of us multi-task as we listen to others speak. While our boss is telling us what he’d like us to do with that shipment of exotic vegetables, we’re busy trying to decide what other duties we need to put on hold. While he’s delivering instructions on where to place the water coolers, we’re trying to decide which color ought to be placed there first. Good remembering begins with intentional listening… and that means we need to put the multi-tasking on hold.
  3. Ask questions. No, you shouldn’t be making a mental list of these while your boss is delivering instructions, but you should be able to ask a few when he’s finished. Make sure that when he says “to the left of the registers” he means “to the left coming into the store” not “to the left going out.” Ensure that ambiguous words like “big” and “little” are qualified. (After all, your idea of a “little display” and his may be drastically different.) And don’t worry about asking for specifics. Is a three foot tall stack of hairdryers too tall? You won’t know unless you ask!
  4. Clarify through repetition. Once you’re pretty sure you understand your task, take a moment to repeat your boss’ instructions back to him in your own words. This will help both of you to ensure that any confusion about his orders is cleared up before you start performing the required task.

These, of course, are only a few ideas to get you started. Being an active listener is a bit of an art form and it can take time to master its nuances, but once you have, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a top-notch performer.