Over the last three years, I have begun to think that listening is perhaps the most important skill you can have. Is it, that I have felt the frustration of not being listened to myself or that I have seen the result of a failure to listen creating sustained miscommunication? Which resulted in irreconcilable difference.
How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationship with others.
- We listen to obtain information.
- We listen to understand.
- We listen for enjoyment.
- We listen to learn.
Given all this listening we do, you would think we’d be good at it!
In fact most of us are not. Depending on the study being quoted, we remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers or spouse for 10 minutes, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation. This is miserable!
Reflect on this for a moment. It reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren’t hearing the whole message.
You are simply hoping to capture the important parts or ‘fact fragments’ in the 25-50% you actually hear. What if you don’t?
Clearly, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. 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 conflict and misunderstandings; an area where I am tasked after miscommunication occurs to listen and understand.
Listening is necessary for workplace success!
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, try to understand the complete message being sent.
In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.
You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking.
Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.
If you’re finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them – this will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.
To enhance your listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you are listening to what he or she is saying. To understand the importance of this, ask yourself if you’ve ever been engaged in a conversation when you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying.
You wonder if your message is getting across, or if it’s even worthwhile continuing to speak.
Acknowledgement can be something as simple 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.
Using body language and other signs to acknowledge you are listening also reminds you to pay attention and not let your mind wander.
You should also try to respond to the speaker in a way that will both encourage him or her to continue speaking, so that you can get the information if you need. While nodding and providing acknowledgement says you’re interested, an occasional question or comment to recap what has been said communicate that you understand the message as well.
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 say.
1. Pay attention.
Give the speaker your undivided attention, and acknowledge their message. Recognise that non-verbal communication speaks just as loudly.
• Look at the speaker directly.
• Put aside distracting thoughts. Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal or question.
• 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, right, I understand or uh huh.
3. Provide feedback.
Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, beliefs and experiences 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. “So what I’m hearing is.” And ” It 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?”
• 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, and I am finding myself taking what you said personally. What I thought you just said was XXX; is this 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 can take a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old listening habits are often hard to break, and if you’re listening habits require improvement, then allow yourself time to improve.
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 behaviours and concentrate on the message.
Ask questions, 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 today to become a better communicator, improve your workplace productivity, and develop better relationships.
Start by setting yourself the task of lisTENing in your next conversation with someone:
Yes! That is a ratio of 1:10! LisTEN Ten times more than you talk- You will be amazed at what you hear.
Need assistance or feedback? Don’t hesitate to make contact with me.
About the Author
Kylie Head is a mediation services specialist with twenty years of experience in senior management roles.
In addition to mediating disputes, Kylie acts as a facilitator resolving in-house conflict within business, along with working one-on-one to coach individuals through conflict, life transitions and problem solving. Kylie is experienced in providing mediation services with On the Table to parties where the issues are complex and intractable.
On the Table helps people & teams have conversations.
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