How many times have you felt like you are not being listened to? Someone stares back blankly as you try to cover an important issue, or tell a story, or explain something. It’s especially annoying when someone doesn’t make good quality eye contact with you.
But how good a listener are you?
What usually goes through your head when someone is talking to you at work? Are you thinking of what you will say next? Are you thinking of the message you can see flashing on your phone? There are so many thoughts that cross your mind, and we are all required to be so busy that we can be forgiven for having our minds wander a bit while someone else has the floor – but there is a whole world of understanding and opportunity missed when we do this.
Absorb the message
Listening isn’t a passive process – it requires you to see things from another person’s point of view. The message is more than what is being said – the body language and the tone of voice used help significantly in decoding what our conversant wants us to think, feel or understand.
Check accuracy and meaning
It is easy to make assumptions about what someone is trying to tell us. We might decide that someone is being aggressive, in which case it can really help to ask direct questions such as “have I done something to make you angry?” or “are you saying that you to deliver bad news to a customer because of something I did?” It might seem condescending at first, but this paraphrasing and checking of meaning saves a lot of time and heartache down the track.
Checking the accuracy and meaning of your interpretation also makes someone feel understood (or gives them a good opportunity to clarify). People will always be more receptive to what you have to say, if you have shown them the courtesy of listening to them first.
Knowing when to make suggestions or use silence
It can take a lot of practise to really master the art of responding to someone in a way that they are receptive to what you say. Some people move through life extremely frustrated that no matter how clearly they say something, people just don’t listen! The reason is usually in their delivery, and listening first and understanding the other person’s position is a great start.
But a common mistake is to feel as though you must answer every query and have a solution to every problem immediately. It’s not always the case – often silence, accompanied by a simple nod, is enough to show that you have composure and that you are willing to listen. In this world of panic and perpetual haste, a silent pause can do magnificent things.
Overall, it’s easy to forget that listening is more than doing ‘nothing’. It involves you actively taking part in the conversation by observing, reflecting and understanding the message being sent to you. It means showing the other person you are interested in what they have to say.
Listening is a sadly underrated skill that can make a huge difference in any negotiation, and makes the difference between a great manager and an ordinary one.
Eve Ash has created a 360 degree listening assessment tool to see how good a listener you are, the Listening Skills Indicator, as well as a number of DVDs on listening skills, including the most recent comedy title she filmed in the USA: Listening Actively.