I have a bad habit when I’m at networking functions of constantly scanning the room even when I’m speaking with someone. It comes from my days of reporting – always looking for the next story and being aware of my surroundings.
To the person with whom I am speaking, though, it’s rude. Through the years, I’ve become much better about staying engaged in the conversation I’m having with a person, and that means keeping my eyes focused on the person and not my surroundings.
At my desk, if I’m talking on the phone, I turn away from my computer because it’s all too easy to glance at emails and even reply to some. The person on the other end of the phone may not see me sending an email, but he will know that I am distracted.
Other ways I work to ensure that I am listening to the person include:
Asking questions. It’s a reporter’s trick and an easy way to learn more about the person. If I’m asking the questions, I’m going to listen to the answers. I try not to ask yes or no questions but rather open-ended ones so the person can elaborate.
Not interrupting. Again, as a reporter, we’re taught to shout out questions at press conferences, but when speaking with a person I need to allow her to finish her thoughts before I ask my question or respond to what she is saying. I often wait a second or two before saying anything to ensure my colleague has finished speaking.
Actively listening. I want whomever I am speaking with to know that I am interested in what he has to say so I nod at appropriate places and make eye contact. I’ll even repeat back what I think I heard so my colleague can clarify if I misunderstood.
These simple steps can go a long way in ensuring successful conversations.