Become a Better Listener by Taking Notes

Posted on: April 17th, 2017 by bobmorris

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Sabina Nawaz for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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Team dynamics can make or break a meeting.

Have you ever been in a meeting where people interrupt each other, introduce new ideas when they should be building on the conversation, and repeat someone else’s point just to be heard? These communication issues waste time and energy, and usually lead to more meetings to correct misunderstandings, reiterate decisions, or soothe hurt feelings and interoffice tensions.

But there is one thing you can do that can make a significant difference to improving the quality of time you spend in meetings: Listen. By improving the way you listen and understand others in meetings, you can make that time more productive by reducing repetition and misunderstandings.

If simply listening can solve so many problems, why is it so hard to practice? One reason is we’re listening to interrupt with our ideas or rebuttals. We listen so we can jump in with our perspective. Or we’re worried we’ll forget what we want to say if we listen for too long. We focus on our own communication, rather than listening to understand others.

Through my work with executive teams, I’ve developed a simple technique that can help anyone listen more effectively in meetings. I call it Margin Notes. You may already take notes during meetings, but unless you’re using them wisely to understand others and plan your response, you may still fall into the same trap of speaking before you think. Margin Notes allows you to think, process information, make connections between points of discussion, and ask effective questions instead of blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.

Here’s how it works:

o Set your page with a wide margin and take notes when someone else is talking. In the main body of your notes, capture only what the other person is saying. These don’t have to be verbatim; just jot down the key points. You can accurately quote individuals later.

o In the margin, capture your ideas, judgments, rebuttals, and questions to each of the points you’ve written down. By marking them to the side, you separate your own thoughts from what others say. It lets you set aside (literally) your own voice and gives you space to listen to others. For example, when your boss excitedly outlines idea after idea for a product launch, you might note in the margin, “Ask about budget” or “Remind about CEO memo.”

o When you speak, only bring up items from your Margin Notes that haven’t already been addressed and are the highest priority, and cross them off as you go. If you’re unable to raise some topics during the meeting and the items are important to you, tag them for follow-up.
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Sabina Nawaz is a global CEO coach, leadership keynote speaker, and writer working in over 26 countries. She advises C-level executives in Fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, non-profits, and academic organizations. Sabina has spoken at hundreds of seminars, events, and conferences including TEDx and has written for FastCompany.com, Inc.com, and Forbes.com, in addition to HBR.org. Follow her on Twitter.

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