For many of us, listening is the communication skill we use the most. Yet, many people listen poorly, (Quiet honestly, at one point or another we all have)…and they rarely think to improve this important skill.
Poor listeners "hear" what's being said, but they rarely "listen" to the whole message.
They get distracted by their own thoughts or by what's going on around them, and they formulate their responses before the person they're talking to has finished speaking. Because of this, they miss crucial information. They are so focused on saying their piece that they were just waiting for the opportunity to speak…
Good listeners, on the other hand, enjoy better relationships, because they fully understand what other people are saying. Their team members are also more productive, because they feel that they can discuss problems easily, and talk through solutions, they feel that they can count on that person because they “listen”. But there are some great news, you can learn to become a better listener.
Preparing to Listen Preparation is essential for effective listening. Without it, it's hard to listen to people successfully.
Before you have an important conversation, remove anything that may distract you from it, so that you can focus, and so that you can show the other person that she has your full attention. Switch off your cell phone, turn off instant messaging and email alerts, put your work away, close your meeting room door, and do what you can to make sure that you won't be interrupted. When possible, schedule this meeting time…
If you know that you won't be able to offer the other person your full attention – for example, if you're working on an urgent task – schedule a better time to speak. However, make sure that the other person knows that the conversation is important to you.
Also, do what you can to make the other person feel at ease. Use open body language, same body language you use when you speak to your friends, unguarded, relaxed, with openness and a friendly tone.
If he/she indicates that he/she wants to speak about a sensitive subject, and if this is appropriate, remind him/her that the conversation is in confidence, and that he/she can be honest with you.
Remember thought, if you're a manager, there may be some things that you cannot keep confidential. If the conversation is beginning to center on this, make this clear to the other person.
Active Listening When you listen actively, you not only make a conscious effort to hear the other person's words, but, more importantly, you try to understand their whole message.
To do this, learn how to read people's body language and tone, so that you can identify "hidden" nonverbal messages.
Also, don't interrupt people, and don't allow yourself to become distracted by your own thoughts or opinions. Instead, focus completely on what the other person is saying. Nod or say "OK" occasionally to acknowledge that you're listening.
If you don't understand something, wait for people to finish what they're saying before you ask for clarification.
Above all, don't formulate a response until people have communicated their whole message, and avoid any judgment or criticism until it's your turn to speak. If you argue or "play devil's advocate" while you listen, you may discourage them from opening up to you.
It can be difficult not to formulate a response while the other person is talking. This is because we typically think much faster than other people can speak, so our brains are often "whirring away" while they are talking. You'll need to concentrate hard to stay focused on the person who's speaking, and this can take a lot of effort.