Effective listeners are not born good listeners, they learn how to listen. Listening is a skill, one of the basic building blocks of communication,and one of the most difficult to learn and practice.
Hearing alone is not listening. You can’t listen and think about other things, or formulate responses before hearing them out, and hear what they are saying. You can’t interrupt, roll your eyes, tap your pen, look off in the distance, shake your finger, shrug your shoulder and tell yourself you already know what they are going to say, and at the same time understand the speaker's real point, or the thoughts or feelings underlying that point.
At work, and in life, we are have to listen in many different contexts and for many purposes, some of them crucial. We may need to get information about a problem in order to help solve it; listen to a coworkers personal and work related problems; Listen and respond to customers who know they want something, but don’t know what it is they want; Deal with customers who feel they have been wronged and try to make it right; Talk to people of many different backgrounds and cultures; Deal with a real emergency.
You need to understand to respond effectively. The first skill you need is Active Listening, a comprehensive approach to the task of listening.
Active listening will get you more information, improved understanding, a clearer picture of other people’s points of view. It requires you learn, and remember, more of what the other party has said, but also that you communicate your interest and involvement to that party, as well. It involves:
- Verbal and nonverbal communication,
- Mental and emotional discipline.
An active listener looks and sounds interested in the speaker and maintains good eye contact: (Too much eye contact may make the speaker feel self-conscious; too little will make him feel ignored, and it is cultural. Some cultures find eye contact aggressive. You have to observe the other person and make the feel comfortable to talk, even if what they say is not very comfortable).
Maintain a body position and facial expression that indicate attentiveness, not boredom, nod encouragingly, avoid distracting behaviors, and try not to be distracted by the speaker's.Use vocalizations such as "uh-huh" and "yes" to encourage.
Adopt the speaker's point of view. You will understand and remember the speaker's points most effectively if you try to see things from her point of view, at least initially.
Try to suppress your initial reactions, to hear and understand the speaker's perspective. Try to listen and respond as if you have travelled for a while in their shoes, not just your own.
Listen for feelings, not just words. Try to empathize.
Depending on the context and purpose of your communication, you may later shift modes into a discussion in which you also present your own point of view, but to be a good active listener, you shouldn't do that until you thoroughly understand the speaker's point of view. Clarifies the speaker's thoughts and feelings. You will listen better if you are not talking too much yourself. Limit your talking to getting them to fully share their point of view fully, sharing all, especially emotional content.
Avoid inserting your own marginally related experiences, and minimize interruptions. When the speaker pauses, ask open-ended questions (e.g., "How do you feel about X?" "Tell me about X." "What concerns you about X?") rather than questions that can be answered in a single word or phrase ("Are you satisfied with X?" "Is X on schedule?').
You Need a Bit More than a Blog Post to Master Listening Skills
Poor communication on the job is like a vampire that sucks out resources, leaving behind: too many mistakes too much misunderstanding,
- infighting an open resentment,
- and losses.
So I am giving a half price discount on my Uncorporate Academy's Online Course on How to Listen Like a Leader, Respond and Be Listened to, what one student called "an interesting, helpful, and lively class on what could have been a boring subject."