”You are not listening to me.”
“Yes I am. I heard every word you said.”
How often do you genuinely listen when you are having a conversation - I mean fully listen to what is being said, rather then just hear the words? Most of us are lucky to be born with the innate ability to hear, but listening takes more effort and focus.
In our busy worlds, there are few times when people truly listen to us. And yet we all know the difference between hearing a spoken word and actively listening; you can feel it when someone is listening you.
Apart from the obvious business benefits of fully comprehending the content of what your boss, employees, colleagues, partners and customers have to say, listening can transform business relationships. When people turn on their mind to listen, it builds rapport, trust and understanding with the speaker and strengthens relationships. Better relationships lead to improvements in productivity and work quality.
One reason people do not listen well is because our minds are much faster then the pace of the spoken word. Generally we speak about 120 words per minute, but our minds can race at 500-800 words per minute. As a consequence we tend to hear the words, think we get the message and then use our spare mental capacity to think of other things beyond what is being said.
When someone is speaking to you, what do you do with the spare capacity in your mind? Below are the top ten listening skills that when mastered, can have a dramatic impact on your relationships and understanding of your business.
1 Decide to Listen
Listening is a choice. So deciding to stop talking and start listening is an important first step.
2. Let Go of Your Personal Agenda
To truly hear someone, you need to let go of your own agenda, and prejudices. Focus your attention by clearing away all distractions and any preconceived notions, so that you can be fully present and create space in your mind for different views.
3. Be Curious
Effective listening requires you to be curious about how other people see the world. Seek to understand all you can, ask open questions and try to see the world through the other persons' perceptual lens.
4. Listen With Your Eyes
Maintain eye contact with the speaker and pay attention to all the visual clues. People will appreciate your attention and be better able to communicate with you. With practice, you will become more able to read the signs and understand the meaning of what is being communicated.
5. Listen for the Whole Message
Make sure you hear and understand the whole message before you respond. A common bad habit is to only hear what you expect to hear, and then begin rehearsing your response, ready to pitch in as soon as the dialog has stopped. (Or worse still, interrupting with a response to what you think you are likely to hear.)
6. Be Patient
Some people take longer to find the right words, to make a point or clarify an issue. Leave time for them to think and complete their message. Wait, and then wait some more.
7. Listen with Respect
Respecting the right to differ is a key concept that is especially important when you are listening. Differences may lie in the opinions being expressed, or in the communication style that is being used. Remember that even when you are not communicating verbally, your own non-verbal cues speak for you. Listen to understand not to judge.
8. Feel Empathy
This is particularly important when people communicate something personal or painful. Empathy is more then feeling sorry for someone. Empathy requires you to first understand and feel others' emotions and feelings so that you can then acknowledge the message and share your new understanding.
9. Manage Your Emotions and Reactions
If what others are saying creates an emotional response in you, be attentive to listen for the intent and full meaning of their words. Don't allow others to blow wind into your sails. Remember you have control of your reactions. You cannot stop the wind, but you can choose to let it spill off your sails! Maintaining your calm, even when you feel like your 'buttons' are being pushed, is a powerful skill that will help you achieve your goals in all aspects of your life. Getting defensive and angry makes it difficult to impossible to listen.
10. Test for Understanding
Periodically summarize what you have heard to test your understanding. Also, by asking questions to clarify your understanding, you will draw out a clearer picture of what is being said.