We have one mouth and two ears. In any conversation we should be listening twice as much as we talk! Listening is one of THE most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness, your business performance, and on the quality of your relationships with people across the board.
Through listening we obtain information, gain understanding, receive enjoyment, and learn.
Given all the listening we purportedly do, you would think we’d be good at it! In fact we’re not. Depending on the study being quoted, we actually only absorb a dismal 25-50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers or spouse for 10 minutes, they only really hear 2.5 – 5 minutes of what you are saying.
Turn it around and it reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren’t hearing the whole message. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25- 50%, but what if they’re not?
Clearly, listening is a skill that we all need to improve. By becoming a better listener, you will improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade, and negotiate. What’s more, you’ll avoid unnecessary conflict and misunderstandings – all necessary for success in the workplace.
Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. By understanding your personal style of communicating, you will go a long way towards creating good, and lasting, impressions with others.
The way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening”. This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, to try and understand the total message being sent.
In order to do this you must pay very careful attention to what the other person is saying. You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by what else may be going on around you, or by formulating counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to lose focus. These are all barriers that contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.
To enhance your listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you are listening to what he or she is saying. Have you ever been engaged in a conversation when you wondered whether you were ‘getting through’ to the other person? You wonder if your message is getting across, or if it’s even worthwhile to continue speaking – it feels like you’re talking to a brick wall.
Acknowledgement is vital. It can be something as trivial as a nod of the head or a simple “uh huh.” You aren’t necessarily agreeing with the person, you are simply indicating that you are listening. Repeating the speaker’s words mentally as they say it, using body language and other signs to acknowledge that you are listening, are some techniques that remind you to pay attention and not let your mind wander. The objective is to control mind drift whilst someone is speaking to you.
Try to respond to the speaker in a way that will encourage him or her to continue speaking so that you can get the information you need. While nodding and “uh huhing” says you’re interested, an occasional question or comment to recap what has been said communicates that you are not only listening, but that you understand the message.
Becoming an Active Listener
There are five key elements of active listening. They all help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they are saying.
- Pay attention. Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognise that what is not said also speaks loudly.
- Look at the speaker directly.
- Put aside distracting thoughts. Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal!
- Avoid being distracted by environmental factors.
- Make notes.
- “Listen” to the speaker’s body language.
- Refrain from side conversations when listening in a group setting.
- Show that you are listening. Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
- Nod occasionally.
- Smile and use other facial expressions.
- Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.
- Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes and uh huh.
- Provide feedback. Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions.
- Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is…” and “Sounds like you are saying…” are good ways to reflect back.
- Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say…” “Is this what you mean?”
- Summarise the speaker’s comments periodically
- If you find yourself responding emotionally to what someone said, say so, and ask for more information: “I may not understand you correctly but I find myself taking what you are saying personally. What I thought you just said is …; is that what you meant?”
- Defer judgment. Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
- Allow the speaker to finish.
- Don’t interrupt with counterarguments.
- Respond Appropriately. Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.
- Be candid, open, and honest in your response.
- Assert your opinions respectfully.
- Treat the other person as you would want to be treated.
It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break, and if your listening habits are as bad as most people’s are, there’s a lot of habit-breaking to do!
Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself constantly that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviours and concentrate on the message. Ask question, reflect, and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message. If you don’t, then you’ll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different!
Start using active listening to become a better communicator and improve your workplace productivity and relationships.
Remember that internal misjudgements are six times more likely to cause business failure than external factors. The message is clear … keep objective help close at hand at all times, and if you don’t have it, get it without delay.
Success in business, as in life, is all about getting the fundamentals right … and the actions you take!
What a different world this would be if people would listen to those who know more and not merely try to get something from those who have more.