At their best, meetings are sites of productive discussions with your team or (if they cross departments) with interdepartmental colleagues. But at their worst, you can feel like meetings drain productivity, rather than enhance it. Sometimes the key to a productive meeting, isn’t in what you say but in how you listen.
Some of the worst culprits in the productivity-drain scenario are exchanges of information that are really miscommunications or non-communications. Whether it’s a new client profile discussion or your team indicating difficulty making a deadline, you need to leave the meeting genuinely understanding both what was said and the ramifications of it.
Active Listening Skills Are the Key to Productive Meetings
How can you make sure you’re understand information shared in meetings? The answer is to focus on and hone your active listening skills.
Active listening isn’t just sitting and letting a coworker’s words fall upon your ears. It’s listening closely. It’s also somewhat interactive, in that you enter a dialogue focused on understanding better.
Here are seven tips on how to implement active listening skills in meetings to make a better impression on coworkers and have a more productive meeting.
1. Concentrate on making the exchange win-win for you and the speaker.
Approach the speaker in the spirit of win-win. If a colleague is discussing a new client profile, for example, focus on the positive implications for your department. If your staff is experiencing challenges in meeting deadlines, don’t react negatively, but rather support them in understanding why delays are happening and setting better deadlines. A win-win attitude will keep people actively sharing the challenges and successes they face and will help you more effectively troubleshoot.
2. Affirm that you’re listening.
Don’t listen passively; affirm that you’re listening. This can be done nonverbally, via eye contact and nodding. Or it can be done via brief verbal comments such as “I see” or “so what you’re saying is…” These needn’t indicate actual agreement with what the content, only that you are focusing on and processing what is being said.
3. Briefly summarize once the person has finished speaking.
The best way to make sure that you don’t misunderstand or hear what you want to hear is to briefly summarize your understanding of what the speaker said back to them.
You may say, for example, “so we’ll be pursuing Generation Z entrepreneurs much more forcefully in 2021.” It’s a chance for the speaker to correct you if in fact they meant to convey that the focus was on entrepreneurs of all age groups – Gen Z was simply the example used in the meeting.
4. Ask rather than assume.
If you’re unclear about certain elements, be sure to ask rather than assume. Many miscommunications happen because the details have fallen through the cracks of assumptions!
If your staff can’t meet deadlines partly due to work from home glitches, you may assume the issue is lack of informal intraoffice communication – when the staff is convinced that some colleagues’ computers are too slow but aren’t clearly conveying that. You don’t want to base the solution on initiation of a Slack channel when the actual issue is that your employees need new computers.
5. Ask open-ended questions.
One of the best ways to elicit information in business is to ask open-ended questions rather than those that can be answered with “yes,” “no,” or a simple fact. The answers to open-ended questions will give you far more contextual information than closed-ended questions.
To further hone your understanding of the new client profile, you may say “how will the focus of our pitch to new entrepreneurs differ from our current pitch to smaller businesses?” To your staff, you might say “what’s your ideal solution?” You’ll glean more useful information the more the speakers reveal.
6. Don’t provide an immediate solution.
Don’t leap in with a solution right away. First, a solution can interrupt the listening process by putting your plan first rather than the information you’re receiving.
Second, you’re very likely to need to touch base with colleagues or clients not at the meeting to come up with a robust solution. The last thing you want is to offer a solution that needs to be walked back as you get more information – it gives the impression that your solutions can’t be relied upon. In a worst case scenario, if colleagues get the idea that nothing said in a meeting stands, it can devalue meetings.
Active listening skills are a tremendous asset to bring to every meeting. The tips above can raise your positive profile and maximize productivity for your team and your company.
For more on leadership and communication, check out our Career Advice blog.