Coworking offers the opportunities to be surrounded by unique, motivated individuals who can offer insights about work and give you genuine human connection. This new workplace landscape creates more opportunities for collaboration than ever before. But in order for conversations to flourish, each person must be able to listen to the other. Like, really actually listen. Not just smile and then forget about what they said five minutes after they walk away. Say your fellow co-worker is in the process of expanding their team and talks to you about having a hard time finding a good fit. Being able to fully engage in a conversation, both listening and responding, will help both people to spark new ideas about how to approach the hiring process.
I find that I listen best when I approach with the intent to understand and support, not to critique or analyze. For example, you might be eager to engage in conversation, but if you are constantly cutting others off mid sentence, they may start to feel misunderstood. Actively listening to your co-worker, rather than waiting for your turn to say something, encourages patience during a conversation. Here are three key techniques that help me become a better active listener:
1. Pay attention and stay engaged
Look at your conversation buddy directly and try not to get distracted by any passing thoughts or environmental factors. We all have tasks and concerns on our minds, but making the effort to fully hear someone can offer you a chance to step out of your own head for a minute and show the other person that you care.
Example: you have a tiring weekend playing tour guide for cousins that are in town and you get to work on Monday still feeling drained. One of your fellow co-workers asks how your weekend was, and you respond by telling them about how you drove from Waikiki to North Shore to Kailua then back to Waikiki for a late dinner yesterday and are feeling pretty exhausted today. You know theyʻre working on a big project, but they seem genuinely interested in your story and offer you some expressions of shared tiredness. These small signals of engagement can make a big difference.
2. Provide feedback in an honest and respectful way
Once your partner had wrapped up their thoughts, summarize what you heard and start with things like “It sounds like…” or “what I’m hearing is…”. Ask questions if you need clarification on a point. If you start to take something personally, ask for more information. “I may not be understanding you correctly, is this what you meant…?” Being able to recognize when something said makes you feel angry or makes you want to respond defensively can be helpful in keeping the conversation respectful.
Take a second to process your emotions before reacting to what was said. Understand that almost all of the time, it’s not about you.
3. Ask questions and let the other person find the solution
Last but not least, unless directly asked for a solution, try to refrain from trying to “fix” the problem. Focus on letting the other person talk through their issues and expand on their ideas. Sometimes asking the right questions can help a friend come to their own solutions.
Example: someone is telling you about the string of difficult overseas clients sheʻs had to talk on the phone with recently. Instead of responding with a helpful tip about how to decompress after a stressful call, ask what specific things made the interactions hard to deal with, or ask what she usually does to relieve stress. This type of unbiased conversation will strengthen a healthy bond between you and your coworkers.
Lastly, SHARE and LISTEN – the more you share, the more you become integrated into the community. Being part of a co-working space allows us to share in the community’s success together. Being able to engage with the community gives an opportunity to share wins, creating authentic relationships that will foster growth for everyone involved.