Active Listening

Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationships with others. We listen:

  • to obtain information;
  • to understand;
  • for enjoyment;
  • to learn.

We are not good at listening. Depending on the study being quoted, we remember a dismal 25-50% of what we hear. This means that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren’t hearing the whole message either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25 – 50%, but what if they’re not?

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 sent. In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.

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.

1.  Pay Attention – Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message ( a nod of the head or a simple “uh-huh”). Recognize 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;
  • “Listen” to the speaker’s body language;
  • Refrain from side conversations when listening in a group setting.

2.  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”.

3.  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 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.
  • If you find yourself responding emotionally to what someone said, say so, and ask for more information: I may not be understanding you correctly, and I find myself taking what you said personally. What I thought you just said is XXX; is that what you meant?”

4.  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 counter – arguments.

5.  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 he or she 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 many people’s are, then there’s a lot of habit breaking to do!

Be deliberate  with your listening and remind yourself constantly that your goal is truly to hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thought 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 you hear can be amazingly different!

Start using active listening today to become a better communicator and improve your workplace productively and your relationships.

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