Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on both your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationships with others.
- We listen to obtain information.
- We listen to understand.
- We listen for enjoyment.
- We listen to learn.
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 attention to the other person very carefully.
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. Recognize that what is not said also speaks loudly.
- Show that you are listening.Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
- 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.
- Defer judgment. Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
- 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.
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 to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors 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 today to become a better communicator and improve both your business productivity and relationships.