Masterful Listening Skills for You and Me
Posted on January 11, 2010 by Rachel Schaming, One of Thousands of Business Coaches on Noomii.
Listening to and acknowledging other people may seem deceptively simple. Doing it well, particularly when disagreements arise, takes true skill.
Listening is one of the most important skills we can have and a critical coaching competency. How well we listen has a major impact on our coaching effectiveness and the quality of our relationships with others.
We listen to obtain information
We listen to understand
We listen for enjoyment
We listen to learn
We listen to discern
We listen to honor
Given all the listening we do, you would think we’d be good at it! In fact we’re not. Depending on the study being quoted, we remember a dismal 25 to 50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers, spouse, children or friends for 10 minutes, they only really hear 2 and ½ to 5 minutes of the conversation.
Turn it around and it reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information – you aren’t hearing the whole message either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25 to 50%. What if they are not?
By becoming a better listener, you improve your productivity, as well as your ability to intuit, influence, persuade, negotiate and honor others. What’s more, you may avoid unnecessary conflict and misunderstandings.
Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. By understanding your personal style of communicating, your hot buttons, your beliefs and values; you will go a long way towards creating good and lasting impressions with others.
The way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening.” This is the skill where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, to understand the total message being conveyed.
In order to do this, you must pay close attention to the other person very carefully listening to the words expressed – and, not expressed. This is masterful listening.
You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by what may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to lose focus on what the other person is saying. These are barriers that contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.
If you are finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try silently repeating their words as they say them. This will reinforce their message and help you control mind drift.
To enhance listening skills, you need to let the other person know you are listening to what he or she is saying. To understand the importance of this, ask yourself if you’ve ever been engaged in a conversation and you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying. As you speak, you are wondering if your message is getting across, or if it’s even worthwhile to continue speaking. It feels like talking to a brick wall. It’s something you want to end or, you want to avoid.
Acknowledgement that you are listening can be something as simple as a nod of the head [if listening in person] or a simple, “uh, huh,” “hm-m-m,” “I see,” or “tell me more.” Using body language and other signs to acknowledge you are listening also reminds you to pay attention and not let your mind wander.
Respond to the speaker in a way that will both encourage him or her to continue speaking so that you can get the information you need. While nodding and “uh huhing” says you are interested, an occasional question, paraphrase or recap [EX: “Let me check my understanding.”] communicates that you understand the message as well and that you are tracking with the speaker.
There are five key elements of active listening. They all help ensure that you hear the other person and that the other person knows you are hearing what they are saying.
1. Pay attention
Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognize that what is not said also speaks loudly.
o Look at the speaker directly [if communicating in person]
o Put aside distracting thoughts. Do not mentally prepare a rebuttal!
o Avoid being distracted by environmental factors
o “Listen” to the speaker’s body language
o Refrain from side conversations when listening in a group setting
2. Show that you are listening. Use your body language and gestures to convey your attention.
o Nod occasionally [when communicating in person]
o Smile and use other facial expressions
o Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting
o Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, uh-hum, I see etc.
NOTE: The above tips work well when listening telephonically. The speaker can “sense” a smile, and openness.
3. Provide feedback
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 what is being said. Ask the following questions:
o Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing, “What I’m hearing is …” and “Sounds like you are saying . . .” are great ways to reflect back.
o Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say . . .,” “Is this what you mean?”
If you find yourself responding emotionally to what someone said –say so, and ask for more information. “I may not be understanding you correctly. I find myself feeling ______. What I thought you said was XXX; is that what you meant?”
4. Defer judgment
Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
o Allow the speaker to finish
o Don’t interrupt with counterarguments
o Let go of being “right”
5. Respond Appropriately
Actively listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.
o Be candid, open, and honest in your responses
o Assert your opinions respectfully
o Treat the other person as he or she would want to be treated and as YOU would want to be treated.
It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break.
Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself constantly that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors. Concentrate on the message. Ask questions, reflect, paraphrase and clarify to ensure you understand the message. Remember, actively listening with another person does not necessarily mean we are “in agreement” with them – we are simply partnering with them to gain a deeper understanding of their communication with us.
Start active listening today to become a better communicator. To “attend” means to listen and not just hear someone. By taking time to concentrate on active listening, you are telling that person – friend, partner, child, client, or employer – that what he or she has to say is very important to you. Listening is a gift you give yourself – and, the speaker.
Listening to and acknowledging other people may seem deceptively simple. Doing it well, particularly when disagreements arise, takes true skill – a skill that can be learned. It takes practice, practice, practice.