Most of us take for granted or don’t really think about our ability to listen well, and few of us are very good at it. Ironically, I suspect many of us believe we are actually pretty good listeners while other people we know are not.
All of us could improve our ability to listen better and this could make a huge difference in improving both our personal lives as well as our work lives.
There are basically four communication skills: (1) reading, (2) writing, (3) speaking, and (4) listening. The concentration of most communication training throughout our lives is, for the most part, in this particular order. In the workplace, however, one could argue that the order should be reversed based on the amount of time used in each of these areas.
Listening and speaking are much more widely used and valuable capabilities in the workplace than reading and writing. Sadly, listening skills get more lip service than actual attention by both the employee and employer.
It’s not very often where we see a job posting that requires “great listening skills.” Nevertheless, this should be a requirement and one that should be given a lot more attention and respect.
Research in 1971 by Albert Mehrabian determined that there are three elements of face-to-face communication: words (verbal), tone of voice (vocal) and body language (visual).
According to Mehradbian, these verbal, vocal and visual elements account differently for our liking of the speaker of the message. Words account for a mere 7%, tone of voice 38%, and body language a full 55% of this liking. And our liking of the speaker can greatly affect our ability to trust and continue following the message being conveyed.
Furthermore, nonverbal elements (including feelings and attitudes) are particularly important, especially if they are incongruent with the words. If words and body language disagree, we tend to believe the body language.
Understanding how these nonverbal elements can affect our ability to understand and trust a message is vital to effective communication.
Being on the receiving end of a conversation means more than simply preparing for when it is your turn to speak. In order to really understand a message being presented, you need to actively listen with all your senses. You need to stay present and fully tune in to understand.
Here are Six Tips for Better Listening:
- Don’t interrupt the speaker until he or she has finished. This sounds so obvious, yet it is amazing how often we talk over others. It’s not only rude, it can also cripple true communication. There is perhaps no greater gift you can give to another person than by paying attention and let them know they are being heard.
- Focus on what the speaker is saying both verbally and nonverbally. Listen to each and every word the speaker is saying instead of preparing for your response. Watch for body language that is congruent or in contrast to what is being said. Concentrate on the speaker’s tone of voice, eye contact, facial expressions and feelings to aid your understanding of the message.
- Use active listening skills to demonstrate your attentiveness. Nonverbal cues such as maintaining eye contact, nodding and leaning forward all indicate you are paying attention. In addition, you can say things such as “I see” and “uh-huh” if the information you are hearing is clear.
- Be curious and not defensive. Sometimes we are hearing things we don’t agree with or are offended by and this is when it is hard to avoid becoming defensive and stop listening. Recognize when you are triggered by this and then try to stay calm and present so that you can continue to hear the entire message before responding. Keep an open mind and seek to fully understand the speaker’s perspective.
- Put aside your judgment in order to fully understand. Fact is, we can all absorb and process words spoken by other people much faster than they can verbalize the information. This leaves lots of time for us to analyze, evaluate and anticipate the speaker’s thoughts. This should be avoided as the ability to truly listen and reserve judgment is crucial for all ideas to be given full consideration.
- Use paraphrase to aid understanding and show you care. You can use a variation on “What I hear you saying is . . .” in order to reflect on what the speaker has said. The goal of paraphrasing is to 1) ensure you are clear about what has been said, and 2) let the speaker know that you care about what he or she is communicating. Both are equally important in communication.
When you are truly listening to someone, you not only hear the words but are fully paying attention. When you pay attention, you do more than simply take in facts and information; you also convey how seriously you consider the thoughts and feelings of the speaker and this helps build rapport and trust like nothing else.
These six tips will help you to become a better listener and this will pay dividends in both your personal and work life.