Updated: Nov 16
You've all met the person. You're conversing, and the person you're speaking with finishes your sentences, jumps to a solution, and starts talking about themselves before you can even finish what you were talking about. You restrain yourself and bite your lip from screaming, "Listen to me!"
Listening is one of the most essential skills in your toolbox, especially for leaders. How well you listen significantly affects your effectiveness at work and the quality of your relationships with your family, friends, peers, direct reports, and leaders.
We listen for all types of purposes: to understand someone, to obtain information, for enjoyment, and to learn.
So, with all this listening we do, one might ask why we aren't all that good at it.
Most of us do not receive proper training in the art of listening. While we are instructed to listen, it is often viewed as an automatic ability. Our attention is directed mainly towards the words that are being spoken, yet attentive listening encompasses more than just the mere hearing of words. Listening constitutes a critical component of the entire communication process.
Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. By understanding your own style of communicating, you can go a long way towards creating good and lasting impressions with others.
To become an effective listener, practice "active listening." To listen actively, you have to make a conscious choice and effort to hear the words another person is saying and, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.
Listen with an open ear, heart, and mind.
To do this, you must carefully pay attention to the other person. The late Steven Covey said,
"In empathic listening you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel."
Learning to listen actively starts when you close your mouth. Apart from the relationship and rapport-reinforcing comments at the beginning of a conversation, your contribution is to listen and show the person you are listening.
Here's a great example.
To ensure effective communication, it is crucial to remain focused on the speaker and avoid becoming distracted by external stimuli or formulating counter-arguments mid-conversation. It is equally important to actively prevent boredom or loss of attention, as these factors can hinder listening and understanding.
Here are some time-tested tips for becoming a more effective active listener:
Physically face the speaker
Maintain reasonable and comfortable eye contact
Lean in, slightly forward towards the speaker (being mindful of their physical comfort zone)
Maintain a posture that is open and relaxed
Make encouraging responses that indicate you're listening
Do whatever else you can to build rapport with the person, apart from talking
When the speaker finishes talking, ask any clarifying questions
Paraphrase what you understood them to have said, using your own words to verify you understand what they've shared
You listen and reflect back on what they've shared with you.
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, then there are many habits breaking to do!
Too often, people mistake having the person speak more with active listening. With active listening, the goal is genuinely to hear and understand what the speaker is conveying.
So if you find yourself asking questions to ‘lubricate’ the conversation, or even adding bits of your own then you’re not active listening - you’re having a conversation.
If you ask questions to check or clarify your understanding once the speaker has stopped talking, you are listening actively.
Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself frequently that your goal is to hear what the other person is saying honestly. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors 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 choosing active listening today to become a better communicator, improve workplace productivity, and develop better relationships.