Failure to truly listen to one another is probably the most common roadblock in communications; and it happens to also be one of the most typical complaints that staff level at management.
Too often, when we get ‘the wrong end of the stick’ it’s all about our failure to listen properly. If you find yourself having to ask people to repeat themselves or discover you’ve got the wrong idea about what was said, it’s mostly likely that your listening skills need a tune up.
The ability to actively listen; gain accurate information from others and properly read the subtle cues in an exchange of communication is vital to proper workings of your business. The failure to listen well can lead to mistakes, big and small, that cost time, money and the goodwill in our relationships.
Too often, we‘re on autopilot when it comes to listening to others. But it doesn’t have to be a passive activity. Listening comprises of a number of conscious skills that can be improved upon, so, you can learn to become a more effective listener.
The most common stumbling block to listening well is that most of us, more often than not, are focusing more on what we want to say in return rather than on what the person is actually saying to us. We’re caught up in our own agenda, busy formulating our reply and impatiently anticipating having our say. It’s no wonder we miss meaning, information and the nuances of non-verbal cues. If we’re only hearing about half a message shared with us, we probably retain even less, which means that in a few days that will mostly be forgotten.
Apart from reducing misunderstandings and mistakes, the great benefit of listening to others well is that it actually helps us build and sustain more productive and trusting relationships. There’s little that’s more frustrating than not feeling ‘heard’ by another, and this sets the tone for uneven relationships badgered by distrust and adversity.
Here are 10 techniques used by effective listeners that you can put into practice during your next conversation:
- Prioritise listening – stay aware throughout the conversation of the fact that you are there to hear the other person – your primary goal is to hear what they have to say.
- Put your thoughts on hold – consciously resist thinking about what you’re going to say while the person speaks. Correct yourself in the moment if your thoughts wander to what you have to say until the other person’s finished.
- Avoid interrupting – resist any urge to show the person that you know what they want to say. Don’t complete others sentences for them or offer them a word or phrase you think they may be searching for.
- Practice patience – let the person communicate at their own pace, even if this is slower than you would like. Allow for pauses and wait until you are quite sure they are finished before speaking.
- Be single-minded – keep your focus on the other person’s words, follow the thread of what they’re saying closely and be sensitive to their non-verbal cues.
- Quietly acknowledge – communicate your understanding of what they are saying by appropriate nods of the head or non-intrusive verbalisations such as ‘uh huh’ that make it clear you’re paying close attention, understanding them and encouraging them to share.
- Strive for understanding – from time to time, when it is appropriate use paraphrasing as a way to test that you are sharing meaning or to get clarity. Paraphrasing also helps to give the person feedback that you are listening and understanding their message.
- Maintain eye contact – comfortable, consistent eye contact (not staring) can help you keep your focus on listening while communicating non-verbally to the other person that you are interested in what they are saying.
- Be aware of your body language – it’s not just eye contact that is important. Ensure that your other non-verbal cues show that you are open and attentive. For example: avoid crossing arms across your body as this creates a barrier.
- Use questions wisely – make sure you are getting the full story and are properly understanding the message. Asking questions from time to time, especially if you are not clear, is important to ensure that you are getting the intended message.
These techniques can help you in the moment to tune out distractions and devote your full attention to the other person with the clear goal of getting their message.
Listening is truly an active process. The more conscious you are of the goal of listening well, the more effective you will be as a listener. You’ll learn more from every conversation you have, retain information better and become known as a person who is great to share information with.