Many of us hear very well, but most do not listen. Confused? Let me explain. Hearing is merely picking up sound vibrations. Listening is making sense out of what we hear. That is, listening requires paying attention, interpreting, and remembering sound stimuli. Effective listening is active rather than passive. In passive listening, you’re like a recorder. You absorb the information given. Active listening is much different.
Active listening, in contrast, requires you to “get inside” the speaker’s head so that you can understand the communication from their point of view. As an active listener, you try to understand what the speaker wants to communicate rather than what you want to understand. You also demonstrate acceptance of what is being conveyed. You listen objectively without judging content. Finally, as an active listener, you take responsibility for completeness. You do whatever is necessary to get the full intended meaning from the speaker’s communication. Why is this important?
Studies have shown that 20 to 30% of everything we say is not interpreted as the speaker fully intended.
Have you ever relayed simple information about a repair to a client and had them look confused? Have you ever given a performance review to an associate, only to have them ask questions at the end, about information that you had already covered? The list goes on and on, not just in our business dealings, but in our personal life as well. To increase our percentages of understanding the information given to us, we must be more effective in our active-listening skills.
The following eight behaviors are associated with effective active-listening skills. If you want to improve your listening skills, look to these behaviors as guides:
1. Make eye contact. How do you feel when somebody doesn’t look at you when you are speaking? If you’re like most people, you’re likely to interpret this behavior as aloofness or lack of interest.
2. Exhibit affirmative head nods and appropriate facial expressions. The effective listener shows interest in what is being said. How? Through nonverbal signals. Affirmative head nods and appropriate facial expressions, when added to good eye contact, convey to the speaker that you’re listening.
3. Avoid distracting actions or gestures. The other side of showing interest is avoiding actions that suggest that your mind is somewhere else. When listening, don’t look at your watch, shuffle papers, or engage in similar distractions. They make the speaker feel as if you’re bored or uninterested and indicate that you aren’t fully attentive.
4. Ask questions. The critical listener analyzes what they hear and asks questions. This behavior provides clarification, ensures understanding, and assures the speaker that you are listening.
5. Paraphrase. Restate what the speaker has said in your own words. The active listener uses phrases such as “What I hear you saying is. . . . “, or “Do you mean . . . ?” By rephrasing what the speaker has said in your own words and feeding it back to the speaker, you verify the accuracy of your understanding.
6. Avoid interrupting the speaker. Let the speaker complete their thought before you try to respond. Do not try to second-guess where the speaker’s thoughts are going. When the speaker is finished, you will know it!
7. Do not over talk. Although talking may be fun, and silence may be uncomfortable, you cannot talk and listen at the same time. The active listener recognizes this fact and does not over talk. You always learn more by listening than you ever could by talking.
8. Make smooth transitions between the roles of speaker and listener. In most situations, you are continually shifting back and forth between the roles of speaker and listener. The active listener makes transitions smoothly from speaker to listener and back to speaker. From a listening perspective, this means concentrating on what a speaker has to say, and avoiding thoughts about what you are going to say as soon you get a chance.Article by Four Grainer, visit FourGrainer.com for more original content.