The Art of Effective Listening

Tag: communication skills

Last time I wrote about general communication and how we can all try to be more open to improving our communication skills. This time I thought I’d delve a bit deeper into Effective Listening, which is quite probably the most important aspect of good communication.

The Art of Effective Listening

Why Listen?

We listen to obtain information, to understand, to enjoy and to learn.

Good listening skills require a high level of self-awareness.  It is important to practice ‘active listening’ i.e. to make a conscious effort to both hear the words being said and to understand the total message.  It is also very important to let the other person know that you are listening; otherwise, it can feel like talking to a brick wall.

There are five key elements to active listening:

Horses are great listeners (and they keep your secrets!). (Image: Sophie Callahan)
  1. Pay attention.  
  • Give the speaker your undivided attention
  • Look directly at the speaker
  • Put aside distracting thoughts
  • Avoid being distracted by environmental factors
  • ‘Listen’ to the speaker’s body language
  • Refrain from side conversations if you are in a group setting.
  1. Show that you are listening.
  • Nod occasionally (NB this does not necessarily imply agreement)
  • Smile and use other facial expressions
  • Note your posture and show it to be open and inviting
  • Encourage the speaker with small verbal comments e.g. ‘yes’ and ‘uh huh’.
  1. Provide feedback
  • Our personal filters, assumptions, judgements and beliefs effect what we hear.  As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said.
  • Reflect and ask questions
  • Paraphrase e.g. ‘What I’m hearing is…….’, ‘Sounds like you’re saying…..’
  • Ask questions to clarify e.g. ‘ When you say……what do you mean?’
  • Periodically summarize the speaker’s points.
  1. Defer Judgement
  • Interrupting wastes time and frustrates the speaker
  • Allow the speaker to finish
  • Don’t interrupt with counter – arguments.
  1. Respond Appropriately
  • Active listening is a model for respect and understanding
  • You are gaining information and perspective
  • You add nothing by attacking the speaker or putting them down
  • Be candid, open and honest in your response
  • Assert your opinions respectfully
  • Treat the other person as he/she would want to be treated.
  • If it is especially important to remember what has been said to you or if you are being given precise instructions then take notes

KEY POINTS

  • It takes practice and determination to be an active listener
  • Be deliberate and remember that your goal is to truly hear what is being said
  • Set aside all else while you listen
  • Ask questions/reflect/paraphrase
  • If you do not do these things then what the speaker says and what you hear can be very different.
  • Take notes if necessary.
When did you last feel that someone truly listened to you?


Tag: communication skills

I often hear people bemoaning the fact that the people they come in contact with don’t communicate very well. Either they don’t listen, fail to say what they mean, just don’t tell you stuff or talk “at” you and hog the conversation! This can be very frustrating and lead to misunderstandings and disagreements.

I was reminded the other day about a talk I gave at a local business, many years ago, on communication and listening and after a trawl through some old files on my laptop I found that I still had the information. So I thought I’d share it….



So what is communication?

Communication is the exchange of thoughts, messages and information by speech, signals, writing and behaviour . In all communication there is a “transmitter” and a “receiver”.

Effective communication promotes self-confidence, intelligence and enhances relationships both personal and in social and work situations.

As a transmitter of communication it is your role to ensure that your message is given in a way which can be understood by the expected receiver and as the receiver it is your job to understand the meaning of the message


Non-Verbal Communication

Non -verbal communication is of equal importance to the words which are spoken. It regulates conversation, communicates emotions, modifies verbal messages, gives insights and can give clues to meanings.
NB remember that these things can vary between cultures.


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In conversation there should be a dialogue which includes:

  • Turn Taking. Generally “You talk, then I talk” will be effective. In conversation monologues aren’t helpful.
  • Connecting. What each person says should in some way be connected to what the other person has said.
  • Mutual Influencing. Each person in a dialogue should be open to being influenced by what the other person has said, it’s best to be open-minded.
  • Co-creating Outcomes. Good dialogue leads to outcomes which benefit both parties.




    Therefore:
  • Say what you think, not what you think others want you to say.
  • Express your views clearly, positively and in a non-threatening manner.
  • Express you views in language which can be understood.
  • Listen actively.
  • If in doubt check the meaning of what you are hearing rather than assuming you understand what was said.
  • Give full attention (put down your phone during conversation!).
  • Give the speaker the respect of hearing what they want you to hear.
  • It is equally important to give respect as to receive it.





    Non-verbal communication includes:
  • Bodily behaviour – posture, movement, gestures
  • Eye behaviour – contact, staring, avoidance
  • Facial expressions – smiles, frowns, raised eyebrows
  • Physiological responses – blushing, breathing rate, pupil dilation
  • Physical characteristics – height, weight, fitness
  • Space – how close a person chooses to be during conversation
  • General appearance – grooming, dress.


    To check your skills at communication ask yourself the following questions.
  • What are my attitudes towards the other person?
  • How would I rate the quality of my “presence” in the dialogue?
  • What attitudes am I expressing in my verbal behaviour?
  • What attitudes am I expressing in my non-verbal behaviour?
  • Do the above two points agree?
  • Does the other person find my communication effective? If necessary, how can I be more effective?
  • In what ways am i distracted from being fully engaged in the conversation? How might I handle any distractions and emotional responses?
  • Am I truly hearing what is being said? How do I know?
  • Am I allowing my own interpretations of what is being said to distract me from the true meaning?
  • How can I learn from this dialogue so that I can improve future communications?




We won’t get it right all of the time but by learning to be more present, more aware of ourselves, more emotionally intelligent and more open then we can all improve our communication skills.

Next time, I’ll look at developing listening skills in more detail so keep your eyes open for that post.