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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
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:
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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.
- Defer Judgement
- Interrupting wastes time and frustrates the speaker
- Allow the speaker to finish
- Don’t interrupt with counter – arguments.
- 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
- 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.