The importance of listening can not be overstated. So much, that it actually has been overstated, but not overly overstated. Yeah, so do I have your attention?
My point above being, that no matter how much the importance of listening is stressed, people still have a hard time with it. In a few of the training classes I facilitate, I try to make the point that learning in a classroom, can be much different than doing on a job. Same concept applies here. No matter how many times you hear about the importance of listening (and probably agree) what you do when back in "real life" can be much different.
My job requires me to be a good listener, so I do have an advantage. But I wasn't born a good listener. It took training, and time. And if you'd like to be a better listener, especially while on the job, that's what it will take for you. So here are a few ideas for you.
1. Any step toward successful change, will always start with attitude. If you don't truly want to (or don't think you need to) become a better listener, then nothing I say will help you.
2. Understand why you want to become a better listener. Knowing why you want to do something (quit smoking, lose weight, save money, etc...) will provide you with the fuel you will need to keep at it. I've learned so much about people, and about situations, by listening which has contributed to my success when helping people overcome challenges. If you are a manager, your staff depends on your ability to listen to them. Being a manager in and of itself should make you want to be a better listener.
3. Admit to yourself that no one expects you to have all of the answers, and that's okay. Also understand the value in the people around you (they have a lot of value). In my experience these two things lead to way more talking than listening.
The first part of this is largely insecurity. We feel that if we don't speak up on all issues, people will just assume we are stupid, even if we are unsure of the answer. A lot of times, the opposite is true. People respect you more if you can admit you don't know an answer, but work to figure out what the correct answer is. Unfortunately, our quest to give a right answer outweighs our desire to listen, and we found ourselves answering a question that was never asked. If you've ever been on the other end of that, it's incredibly frustrating.
The second part is not realizing the value others have. When I think about that this, I think more about managers. When someone comes to speak with you because they have an issue instinctively we want to prove our worth (see above). When actually, a lot of those times we should listen intently to what is being said, and then ask the individual, what they think is the best way to proceed. It doesn't need to be condescending either. The manager could simply say, "I have some ideas on this, but I want to know what types of solutions had crossed your mind." This way, we continue to listen, we learn more about our employees problem solving abilities, and we build confidence in them.
4. If you're soliciting advice, brainstorm all of your ideas before having the actual conversation. If you're using other people as sounding board, let them know up front. Otherwise only present the other person with the issue at hand, not what you've thought of. By brainstorming about it beforehand, you may find that you do not actually need help. If you still determine that you want assistance, brainstorming may help you resist the urge to cut that person off with your own ideas. A lot of times you are tempted to cut people off with your ideas as they are popping in your head. Also, bring a pad therefore you can write a quick note if you do think of something, without saying it aloud. If they give you an idea that you've already thought of, do not cut them off to tell them that. Let them talk to you, and you listen.
If you like to read books, think about it like this. When reading a good book, even at points where it may become predictable, you still read to make sure it comes together the way you thought it would. Do the same thing when listening.
5. Ask questions. The conversation shouldn't be just one person talking, if you're soliciting advice or if someone is coming to you with an idea, or if someone just needs to talk, asking questions is a great tool. What it does is give you more information, which you may need if you are required to give an answer at some point. It requires you to listen so you don't ask a question that was already answered. It gives the other person more insight by forcing to think more deeply (think psychology).
This next one is optional...
6. Every time you interrupt someone, give yourself a little electric shock. Pavlov style. That pesky little habit will be history in no time.
But seriously, becoming a better listener can have so many positive effects. There are probably other pieces of advice I could throw in here, but I think this is a good start. You have to truly be ready, and make a conscious effort to try. Put it on your calendar as a daily reminder, or end the night by asking yourself what listening opportunities were presented today and how did I do? I hope some of this information was helpful. If you have any other suggestions on what could help someone become a better listener, feel free to add them in the comments.