Active listening is a good place to start and a great new year’s goal to have. Active listening will assist you in developing stronger and more effective communication relationships and improve your productivity. It will also enhance your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. Whilst it takes a little bit of time to develop the skill, it will be worth the investment.
What is active listening? It is a skill that involves both your non-verbal and verbal responses to others that lets them know you are paying attention to what they are saying and taking responsibility for understanding their meaning. It assists you to understand, interpret and evaluate what you hear.
Most of us can probably be classified as passive listeners. In other words we believe it’s the speaker’s responsibility to ensure we, the listener, understand. Active listening, however, turns this around and requires the listener to take responsibility for understanding the message the communicator is trying to convey. Trust me; it’s a great tool for trying to understand our teenagers!
There are several elements to active listening. Firstly, you need to give the speaker your undivided attention, recognising that non-verbal communication can speak just as loudly as verbal communication. Look at the speaker; avoid being distracted by your own thoughts and the environmental factors around you. If you are in a group situation, avoid side conversations. Show you are listening through your own body language like a nod, a smile, an open stance. Small verbal comments like uh huh or yes also encourage the speaker to continue.
Secondly, provide feedback to your speaker by reflecting back what they are saying through paraphrasing. Phrases like:
“So what you are saying is…”
“Sounds like you are saying…”
“What I’m hearing is…”
Ask questions to clarify meaning and occasionally summarise the speaker’s comments.
Thirdly, allow the speaker to finish. Don’t interrupt with counter arguments. Lastly respond in an appropriate way. Be open and candid but assert your opinions respectfully. Don’t forget the golden rule: treat the other person as you would like to be treated.
Active listening is a skill that can be learned. It takes a little time and practise but the dividends are huge. Whilst there are some barriers that we should be aware of that can make active listening harder, (that’s for next month’s blog) the time invested in developing these skills will not only add value to your business and personal relationships but will be personally rewarding.