How well do you listen?
When you think about communication, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? It’s likely talking, right? After all, communicating is, for the most part, talking. However, listening is critically important to the communication process, more important than most give it credit.
Think about it? What generally happens in a typical conversation?
Most likely, you’re halfway listening while thinking about what you’ll say next – a ‘take your turn’ scenario.
So, when the other person pauses to take a breath, you jump right in or worse, you interrupt, stepping on their last comment just to get your turn. In other words, no one is listening fully.
How can you carry on a conversation without listening to what the other person is saying? Perhaps the topic of discussion shifts to something else, but you didn’t notice and are left with a bemused expression on your face.
Now, you have to ask the other person to repeat what they said or just admit you weren’t listening. In a personal conversation that can be embarrassing; in business, it can be disastrous.
How can you train yourself to really listen? There are several tools at hand to help you stay on subject and contribute to a conversation in any environment.
Try active listening.
This is simply focusing on listening to what’s being said. It takes practice and patience. Just hearing what’s said is not active listening since you’re in that ‘What am I going to say?’ mode. Active listening is concentrating on what’s said, understanding what’s said, responding, and remembering what was said.
You may also need to employ the ‘check for understanding technique’; some refer to this as reflective listening. When something is stated, the listener restates back to the speaker what was said.
For instance, your child came home upset at her best friend. She tells you that she’s upset. You respond with a check-back statement similar to, ‘I understand you’re upset with your friend. What happened? Tell me more.’ Using this back and forth, the dialogue expands to more detail about what happened.
This tool also works well in a business setting. When discussing a project, restating steps or goals ensures that each person has a clear picture of the anticipated outcome or goal.
How about those conversations that seem to stall? Avoid questions that can be answered with yes or no, or just a minimal response. ‘How was your day? Fine.’ That’s not much of a conversation. Instead, ask open-ended questions, such as ‘What happened at school today?’ or, ‘What happened at work?’ Keep asking for more information; eventually, you probably won’t have to ask anything, you’ll just get to listen to how the day went. Listening for understanding can open up the dialogue at the family dinner table and turn that time into a sharing experience.
Then, there are those times that all we need to do is listen. Perhaps a friend has lost someone close, had a heartbreak, or a rotten day. They need to vent; all you need to do is listen. They’re not looking for solutions or for you to fix anything; they just need a friend to listen. Those are special, special friends.
In these electronic, head down pounding away a text message days, we all need to hang on to communication skills that involve just talking and listening – face to face. So much expression is missed by relying on machines to help us communicate. Instead, how about having a cup of coffee with a friend, putting away the phones, and listening?
Enjoy the conversation!