Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationships with others. The way to improve your listening skills is to practice “active listening.” This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, the complete message being communicated.
To understand the importance of this, ask yourself if you’ve ever been engaged in a conversation when you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying. If your message is getting across, or if it’s even worthwhile continuing to speak. Acknowledgement can be something as simple as a nod of the head or a simple “uh huh.” You aren’t necessarily agreeing with the person, you are simply indicating that you are listening. Using body language and other signs to acknowledge you are listening can also help you to pay attention. Below are five few tips to becoming a better listener:
Becoming an Active Listener
1. Pay Attention
Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognize that non-verbal communication also “speaks” loudly.
- Look at the speaker directly.
- Put aside distracting thoughts.
- Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal!
- Avoid being distracted by environmental factors. For example, side conversations.
- “Listen” to the speaker’s body language.
2. Show That You’re Listening
Use your own body language and gestures to show that you are engaged.
- Nod occasionally.
- Smile and use other facial expressions.
- Make sure that your posture is open and interested.
- Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and “uh huh.”
3. Provide Feedback
Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect on what is being said and to ask questions.
- Reflect on what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is… ,” and “Sounds like you are saying… ,” are great ways to reflect back.
- Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say… .” “Is this what you mean?”
- Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically.
4. Defer Judgment
Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
- Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions.
- Don’t interrupt with counter arguments.
5. Respond Appropriately
Active listening is designed to encourage respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting her down.
- Be candid, open and honest in your response.
- Assert your opinions respectfully.
- Treat the other person in a way that you think they would want to be treated.