Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on how well you do your job and on the quality of your relationships, both at work and in your private life.
Given we do a lot of listening, you think we’d be good at it. But research suggests we only remember between 25 and 50 per cent of what we hear. That means when you’re listening to colleagues, customers or even your partner, you’re taking in less than half of what you hear. Clearly, hearing is a skill we can all benefit from if we get better at it.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening means to concentrate on what is being said by the speaker, rather than just passively listening (that’s just hearing). By becoming a better listener, you’ll get on better with others, improve your productivity, and lift your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. And you’ll avoid misunderstandings and conflict.
To improve your listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you are listening, otherwise they may conclude that what they’re talking about isn’t interesting to you. So here are six Active Listening techniques you can use immediately to become a better listener:
Give the speaker your full attention and acknowledge the message. Understand that non-verbal communication speaks volumes.
Look at the speaker and make eye contact. However, be aware too much eye contact can be intimidating, especially for shy speakers.
Put distracting thoughts aside
‘Listen’ to the speaker’s body language. What’s it telling you?
Let them know you’re listening
Nod and smile occasionally. This encourages them and lets them know you understand.
Let your posture show you’re open to the conversation. For example, if seated, lean slightly forward (don’t sit there with your arms folded)
Provide verbal encouragement, like ‘yes’ and ‘uh-huh’
Don’t look at the clock or your watch
Don’t doodle, pick your fingernails or play with your hair
Our personal assumptions may distort what we hear. As a listener, your job is to understand what is being said. Reflect on what is being said and ask clarifying questions. For example:
“What you’re saying is…”
“What I’m hearing is…”
“What do you mean when you say…?”
“Is this what you mean…”
Remember to summarise the speaker’s comments periodically.
Defer your judgement
Interrupting frustrates the speaker (at its worst, it is downright infuriating). It will limit your understanding of what they are saying. It also wastes time.
Let them finish each point before you ask questions
Don’t interrupt with a counter-argument
Active listening is about encouraging respect and understanding. You are seeking information and perspective. You gain nothing and will go backwards if you attack the speaker or put them down.
Be open, honest and candid in your response
Assert your opinions respectfully
Treat the speaker as you believe they would like to be treated
If you listen actively, the other person will feel appreciated and important. Plus, communication will be clearer for everyone. As a result, they will like you more and be more open to your ideas. This applies not just in the workplace, with colleagues and customers, but to everyone in your life.