The art of Listening
Listening is a skill of critical significance in all aspects of our lives–from maintaining our personal relationships, to getting our jobs done, to taking notes in class, to figuring out which bus to take to the airport. Regardless of how we’re engaged with listening, it’s important to understand that listening involves more than just hearing the words that are directed at us.
In today’s high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world, communication is more important then ever, yet we seem to devote less and less time to really listening to one another. Genuine listening the great gift of this time. It helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy. At work, effective listening means fewer errors and less wasted time. At home, it helps develop resourceful, self-reliant kids who can solve their own problems. Listening builds friendships and careers. It saves money and relationships.
Listening is so important that many top employers provide listening skills training for their employees. This is not surprising when you consider that good listening skills can lead to: better customer satisfaction, greater productivity with fewer mistakes, increased sharing of information that in turn can lead to more creative and innovative work.
If there is one communication skill you should aim to master….then it is listening.
Many successful leaders and entrepreneurs credit their success to effective listening skills. Richard Branson frequently quotes listening as one of the main factors behind the success of Virgin.
Even with its great importance, Listening is not a natural attribute of each individual. One has to develop this key skill over time to be effective listener and communicator. The listening process involves five stages: receiving, understanding, evaluating, remembering, and responding. Here are some key principles to develop effective listening skills:
Stop talking, Listen
When somebody else is talking listen to what they are saying, do not interrupt, refrain from suggesting solutions or finish their sentences for them. Once the other person has finished talking you may clarify to ensure you have received their message correctly.
If you are absolutely bursting with a brilliant solution, at least get the speaker’s permission. Ask, “Would you like to hear my ideas?”
Be attentive and relaxed
The important thing is to be attentive. Put other thoughts out of mind and concentrate on the messages that are being communicated. Essentially calm down and relax yourself from any other thoughts and focus on current communication with means:
– be present
– give attention
– apply or direct yourself
– pay attention
– remain ready to serve
One important thing to note during listening is that….don’t be distracted by your own thoughts, feelings, or biases.
Put the speaker at ease
Try to provide a very conducive environment to the speaker where he/she likes to speak. Turn face to the speaker, make eye contact as necessary, nod occasionally, put aside papers, books, phone & other possible distraction and reflect your willingness to listen & understand with your gestures.
Have an open mind
Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. By having an open mind we can understand what is being said. If the speaker says something that you disagree with then wait and construct an argument to counter what is said but keep an open mind to the views and opinions of others.
Listen without jumping to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent his/her thoughts and feelings. The only way you’ll find out his/her thoughts is by listening.
See the big picture
Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with senses fully alert.
One of the most difficult aspects of listening is the ability understand the context and ability to link together pieces of information to reveal the ideas of others. Focus on what is being said, even if it bores you. If your thoughts start to wander, immediately force yourself to refocus.
Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening. To experience empathy, you have to put yourself in the other person’s place and allow yourself to feel what it is like to be her at that moment. This is not an easy thing to do. It takes energy and concentration. But it is a generous and helpful thing to do, and it facilitates communication like nothing else does.
A pause, even a long pause, does not necessarily mean that the speaker has finished. Sometimes it takes time to formulate what to say and how to say it. Never interrupt or finish a sentence for someone.
When you don’t understand something, of course you should ask the speaker to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the speaker pauses. Then say something like, “Back up a second. I didn’t understand what you just said about…”
Share regular feedback
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 great ways to reflect back.
– Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say.” “Is this what you mean?”
– Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically.
You can show your understanding through appropriate facial expressions and an occasional well-timed “hmmm” or “uh huh.”
It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break, and if your listening skills are bad, then there’s a lot of habit-breaking to do!
Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself frequently that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors and concentrate on the message. For at least one week, at the end of every conversation in which information is exchanged, conclude with a summary statement. Start using active listening techniques today to become a better communicator, improve your workplace productivity, and develop better relationships.