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Listening is one of the most important skills that you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness and on the quality of your relationships with others.
Mr. Lee was a newly appointed assistant manager in a workshop. He was not paying attention when his lead engineer informed him about the issue in the newly bought machine. In few weeks, machine stopped working. Workshop stopped its operations completely. His boss got furious at Lee’s tendency to ignore important pieces of employee communication. Lee was quickly put on probation.
Listening is not the same as Hearing
Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear whereas listening requires focus. Listening means paying attention not only to the story, but how it is told, the use of language and voice and how the other person uses his or her body. In other words, it means being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages. Your ability to listen effectively depends on the degree to which you perceive and understand these messages.
Becoming an Active Listener
There are five key elements of active listening.
Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. If you’re finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them. This will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.
- Look at the speaker and maintain eye contact.
- Take away distracting thoughts.
- Put aside papers, books, the phone and other distractions.
- “Listen” to the speaker’s body language.
2. Pay attention and show interest
Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
- Nod occasionally.
- Smile and use other facial expressions.
- Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.
- Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes and uh huh.
3. Keep open mind
Our personal bias, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs / pre-conceived ideas can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said.
- Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is,” and “Sounds like you are saying,” are great ways to reflect back.
- Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say?” “Is this what you mean?”
- Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically.
4. Defer Judgment
Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. By understanding your personal style of communicating you will go a long way towards creating good and lasting impressions with others.
Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
- Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions.
- Don’t interrupt with counter arguments.
5. Respond Appropriately
Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.
- Be candid, open, and honest in your response.
- Assert your opinions respectfully.
- Treat the other person in a way that you think he or she would want to be treated.
It takes a lot of attention and determination to be an active listener. Old habits die hard, there’s a lot of habit-breaking to do!
Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself frequently that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviours and concentrate on the message. Ask questions, reflect and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message. If you don’t, then you’ll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different!
Start using active listening today to become a better communicator, improve your workplace productivity and develop better relationships.