Listening is a skill that needs to be mastered to ensure effective communication. It is essential to all aspects of our lives. It builds relationships and solves problems. It ensures understanding, reduces errors and helps to resolve conflict. Further, it allows us to demonstrate that we are paying attention to the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of another person. It shows that we value what they have to say.
However, in today’s bustling, high-tech world, the art of listening is on the decline. In the words of Stephen R. Covey, author of the book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” That is, if they are listening at all….
To expand your horizon and strengthen your listening skills, incorporate these five ‘listening’ habits into your daily life:
1. Face the Speaker and Maintain Eye Contact
When someone is speaking to you, have the courtesy to face them and make eye contact. This shows them that they have your undivided attention. In our distracted society, having a conversation with someone whose eyes are glued to their small screens shows blatant disregard for the person speaking.
2. Be Present and Attentive
Signal your attention and interest through body language. Lean forward, smile and nod occasionally to encourage the speaker to continue. Show them that you understand where they are coming from by reflecting their feelings. “You must be thrilled!” “I am sorry that you are going through this.” “What an ordeal!” are some examples.
When listening, remember that words convey only a fraction of the message. Be mindful of their body language which might telegraph enthusiasm, sadness, confusion or irritation. Be attentive to the ‘whole’ of what they are saying, not just the words.
3. Be Focused on Understanding
For many people opening up and sharing their opinions or experiences can be daunting as it leaves them feeling vulnerable to judgment or rejection. Focus your attention on hearing and understanding what is being said rather than planning how you will respond. Show support and empathy. Let the other person know that you ‘get’ what they are saying. If they are expressing sadness or joy, covey those feelings through your facial expressions.
4. Ask Questions ONLY to Ensure Understanding – and Don’t Interrupt!
Ask questions to continue the conversation and show interest, but don’t interrupt. Wait for natural pauses. “So, what happened next?” “How so?” “In what way?” are some examples. Asking intelligent questions, or rephrasing to restate a point the speaker has made, signals your interest and understanding.
Often though, it is easy for a conversation to turn to a different topic without the speaker being able to conclude their original point or thoughts, so if you get side-tracked, bring the conversation back to the original topic.
5. Listen without Fixing
Be the person who listens to understand. When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions. In most cases, they are not looking for a critique of their situation or an analysis of their options. They just want someone to empathize and to see things from their perspective.
If advice is sought, it will be asked for. Be mindful of this last habit. It is essential to being a great listener. Most people don’t want a ‘fixer’. Very often, they will find it insulting or feel as though you are patronizing or condescending to them… Just listen to understand!
The power of truly listening cannot be overstated. Listening is so much more than hearing. It is what happens when we not only open our ears, but also our minds – and sometimes our hearts – to another person. I encourage you to change your life and the lives of those you interact with by adopting these five habits to become a Great Listener.
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