Better Communication – Improve Your Listening Skills
Listening is one of the most effective ways to improve your communication. Good listening skills enable you to:
• Influence, negotiate and persuade
• Have better relationships with your boss, clients and colleagues
• Avoid conflict and misunderstandings
• Take in more information and understand better
• Be more productive and effective
For it to be effective you must learn to ‘actively‘ listen and really pay attention to the speaker.
In normal everyday listening you’re only likely to take in or remember 25-50% of what you hear. At the same time you’re likely to be thinking about what’s being said, forming a response, offering a solution or advice, getting distracted, losing focus or thinking about something else. You might just be waiting for the person to stop talking so you can jump in with your own opinion or perspective.
Listening is about more than what’s being said, it’s about understanding and paying attention to what the person is really saying.
Active listening is about listening without jumping to conclusions, judging or interpreting what they’re saying according to your own beliefs, behaviours and perceptions.
When working with clients, a large part of my role is to listen. What words are you using? What’s your tone of voice? Is there an underlying emotion? What are you really thinking or feeling?
Even over the phone you can pick up on certain cues and emotions.
When you’re face to face, you can see if the body language matches the words, tone and emotion of the speaker.
When you listen you do so in different ways from the superficial ‘only half listening’ to the total focus of deeper listening.
Superficial – not really there, thoughts or attention are somewhere else and the interest is low. May make the right ‘listening’ noises, nod and murmur agreement, but you’re not really listening.
Level 1 – What does this mean to me? You hear the words, but are using your own interpretation and judgement to decide what it means to you. There may be a need for more information. When you listen at this level you’re likely to impose your own opinions and thoughts on the conversation.
Level 2 – This is good for general conversation. You’re focused on the other person and not what’s going on around you. You may be leaning forward, head to one side, make appropriate eye contact, show you’re listening. You’re aware of the speaker’s feelings as well as the words being said. You stay focused in order to fully understand. You’re able to summarise and clarify what’s been said.
Level 3 – This is a much deeper level of listening. It’s about listening for what’s not being said. Use your intuition to truly understand the other person and what they’re feeling. You’re totally focused on the other person and totally unaware of your thoughts or anything else going on around you. This is the level used by coaches, counsellors and therapists when working with clients.
How to improve your listening skills:
• Face the person and maintain appropriate eye contact.
• Show you’re actively listening by acknowledging and engaging with what they’re saying. Nod your head, make appropriate sounds, facial expressions or gestures.
• Focus on the speaker and notice what they’re saying – words, tone, gestures. Avoid getting distracted by what’s going on around you.
• Encourage them with small comments – “yes, uh huh, go on”. Ask ‘open-ended’ questions – how, what, when, where?
• Summarise or paraphrase what they’ve said to show you understand or to clarify what you’ve heard.
• Avoid interrupting. Allow them to finish before you respond or ask questions.
If you get distracted or side-tracked – be honest and apologise – “Sorry, I was thinking about/got distracted by…. Could you repeat that?”. Focus back on the person in front of you.
Listen using more than just your ears. What is the person really saying? Do the words match the tone and energy of the speaker? How do they look? Does their facial expression and body language match what they’re saying? What are they feeling – use your intuition?
Be aware that when you listen, you have your own filters and view of the world and the speaker may have a different perspective on things. Take your cue from them, what is the message, information they want to get across.
Even in emotional situations, show respect and understanding for the other person.
Improve the effectiveness of your listening skills by becoming aware of how you’re listening and practice.
Notice your conversations over the next few days. What level are you listening at? When are you really listening? What difference do you notice when you change the way you listen?