Be the Effective Listening
Image courtesy of Joee_halloween We have two ears and one mouth. Just based on our body parts, you’d think we’d all be natural listeners. But we’re really not. You’re born with the ability to hear, but you have to develop the ability to listen. The normal listening mode for most people is passive. Words come in one ear, and go out the other. Important information is missed. Details are overlooked. Reasoning is misunderstood. People feel disrespected. The alternative to passive listening is active listening, where you’re more of a participant than a spectator, even though you’re not the one talking. It’s a better way to listen effectively. Here’s how to do it: 1. Be prepared to actively listen. If you start off intending to listen passively, you’ve already lost. Listening well is much harder than you think, and it won’t happen by itself. Simply deciding that you’re going to actively listen puts you in the right frame of mind for actually doing it. 2. Stay physically focused. If your body can’t stay still, your mind won’t either. Being physically present in the conversation is obviously essential for good listening, but many people fail at it. Don’t multitask. If you’re checking your email while talking on the phone, you’re not listening to that person. Don’t fidget, drum your fingers, or do pen tricks. Make good eye contact, and don’t interrupt the conversation to take a phone call or perform any other task. One great way to ruin a conversation is to look at your watch when someone’s talking. While you may have a good reason for doing so, it’s a clear signal to the other person that you’re not as interested in listening to them as you are in getting on to your next thing. Even if you think you can be subtle about checking the time, they’ll probably notice. If you absolutely must look at your watch, do it when you’re talking, not when they’re talking. This makes a huge psychological difference to the other person. 3. Stay mentally focused. OK, you’ve managed to make your body sit still. That’s the easy part. Just because you appear to be listening doesn’t mean you are. Does your mind jump around between topics that have nothing to do with the conversation? Listening requires your full attention, so a wandering mind is no good here. Save the daydreaming for your own time. If other conversations are happening around you, tune them out. Block out all background noise and focus on the person you’re talking to. Specifically, focus on the message they’re trying to get across. If you’re thinking about how they don’t pronounce the g at the end of a word they’re sayin’, you’re paying attention to the wrong thing. The important part is their message, not their grammar or diction. Tone and body language can be very important too, so don’t forget to look beyond their words. If you find yourself in a boring conversation, try to find something interesting about it. Putting up with a few minutes of less than stellar discussion might pay off. Anyway, it’s the polite thing to do. 4. Let them talk. When they’re talking, you want to be sure you give them room to say what they want to say. Don’t get impatient if they don’t get to the point as quickly as you’d like. Be respectful, and let them talk their way. Don’t correct mispronounced words, finish their sentences, make disapproving faces, or interrupt to say you disagree. In fact, you shouldn’t even be thinking about what you’re going to say next. Just listen. To make sure they know you want to listen, encourage them to keep speaking by nodding and saying “go on” or “tell me more.” 5. React appropriately. After they’ve finished talking, only then should you respond. Don’t jump the gun by rushing to judgment before they’ve even finished. In fact, even after they’re done, you still might want to pause to think before responding. Do it in a way that shows you were paying attention. You can summarize what they said in your own words, to make sure you understand it correctly. You can ask follow-up questions. Offer feedback based on your careful consideration of what they said. Listening is fairly simple, but it’s not easy. It does take effort, especially when you’re not really in the mood for it. But it’s worth it. By listening well, you not only greatly reduce misunderstandings, but you also give people that warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that someone really listened to them.