It’s the one skill that can never be perfected. Yet it’s the skill that most people say is the one that drives best performance in others.
The ability to listen properly is so revered that many people see great listeners as great communicators. The simple act of listening intently to another person can build that person’s self- esteem, self-worth and self-confidence more than having a dozen other conversations where listening was at a premium.
How can you improve this necessary skill, so you become a person that people respect and honour? How can you build your active listening muscles?
You can apply the features of active listening to any situation if you do the following:
i. Suspend whatever else you are doing: This is key. You simply can’t speak and listen at the same time. We can only focus on a very small number of things, so if we are thinking of something else while someone is talking, you will miss the main points they are making. Fact.
ii. Listen not just to words but feelings: The feelings the other is conveying may well be enveloped in the tone or body language. Listen to what’s not being said as well as what is. You will pick up a lot more detail.
iii. be genuinely interested in the other person: If you’re not, it may well show in the way you respond. Try to maintain an interest, even if you find the other person boring.
iv. summarise the meaning of what they say: This doesn’t mean repeating back parrot-fashion. It means you convey an understanding of what the other person meant. That way, you ensure the other knows you have a clear understanding of what they were saying. Anyone can repeat back words…not everyone can explain the meaning behind the words.
v. ask for clarification now and again: The other person may miss out some detail, or generalise too much, or say things from their own perspective without realising that you don’t see it from that angle. Asking for clarification allows the other person to fill you in on the detail they may have missed.
vi. Put your own feelings on hold: Very difficult to do, but make sure you understand the feelings, ideas, input and influences from the other person before making your own ideas known
vii. State your views only when they have finished: Epitomised by Steven Covey’s ideas from his ‘Seven Habits’ book, “Seek first to understand before being understood” is of paramount importance here. Let the other finish their point so you have a clear picture of the main ideas discussed, without jumping to any misaligned conclusions. Then you earn the right to reply, and the other person is more likely to listen to you, as they subconsciously reciprocate your good listening skills.
All these ideas may seem common sense, and they are. But when you have conversations with some people, you find that it’s less ‘common’ than you think. Be consciously aware of the skills you need to display to become an excellent listener, and you will reap the rewards.
Head of Training
Originally published: 2 November, 2012