Good communication starts with good listening.

Have you ever been in a situation where you are trying to convey important information or get a point across to someone and it isn’t quite clear to you if they are listening?

You know that they hearing you but their head’s nodding in a vain attempt to seem engaged.

Unfortunately with our overstretched lives we often fail to engage in the true art of conversation while misconstruing information and building bad relationships.

Listening and hearing are two different concepts. When people are truly listening more than just the ears are engaged. It is truly a whole body experience.

At a basic level when someone speaks sound waves trigger nerves that say you heard a noise. Listening is our conscience effort to understand what is being heard and acting on it.

Active listening requires an intentional focus on what is being said and processing the information. We can easily default to just hearing if we are not careful.

Information in the form of auditory cues come at us from many directions every day so it is critical that good managers and leaders develop and practice effective listening techniques to enable them to recognise, process, categorise and prioritise facts into what is important and what needs to get done.

To be a better listener you must develop good habits and practice often. Keeping eye contact and limiting distractions are the first major steps in good listening habits.

You may have someone approach you at your desk while you are working on an important task on the computer are reluctant to disengage from the computer. Continuing the conversation that way will cause you to miss important information while sending the wrong message.

To improve active listening:

  1. Pay attention: Face the speaker and make eye contact. You don’t have to stare them down but let the speaker know that you are listening. Turn off distractions and focus on what is being said. If required find a quiet place to minimize outside influences and ensure confidentiality if necessary.

  2. Remain open-minded: Avoid preconceived ideas when speaking with someone. We often start to put our own interpretation on their message immediately. Chris Argyris developed the Ladder of Inference that describes the thinking process that we go through, usually without realizing it, to get from a fact to a decision or action. Listen for key words and phrases that give clues to the tone and motives of conversations from the speaker’s viewpoint, not yours.

  3. Allow the speaker to finish: Unless you are at a total loss of what is being said, even if you have something to say stay focused and be patient. While you are thinking of a reply important information is being lost. Remember you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that ratio.

  4. Respond when it is appropriate. Paraphrasing (restating what the speaker says to make sure that you have understood) and asking relevant questions are a great way to seek clarity and show the speaker that you are actively listening. Body language will also speak for you, so be aware of how you present yourself.

These behaviours will send the message that you are listening, improve retention of information and increase the quality of all your conversations.

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