In today’s world when communication mostly happens digitally, we seem to spend very less time really listening to one another. Genuine listening has become a rare gift. Mostly we listen to speak. We do not have the patience left anymore to deeply listen to people. Poor listening skills lead to irreparable losses in the form of poor relationships, inability towards resolving problems, poor understanding, conflicts, etc. Active listening is a trait. It needs to be developed consciously. Active listening is important both at work and outside. Inside a family or in a club. In fact, skill sets you apart everywhere because this skill is rare and hard to come by. At work, effective listening means fewer errors and less wasted time. In this article, I will share things you need to remember when you try to develop effective listening skills.
Always Face the speaker and establish an eye contact
Facing the speaker and maintaining eye contact is more about giving the speaker the respect he or she deserves. Think of how you would feel when someone is looking out of the window, scanning the room or fidgeting with the cellphone while you are presenting. In one instance, you would figure out that person is not interested in your presentation. There is a possibility that the presentation might not be interesting at all. But it is a good gesture to respect the effort. And this should not just be your attitude at the time of a professional presentation, but this is how you should act while having a one to one conversation with your colleagues at work that include your subordinates too.
Being attentive is the key
Now that you have understood the importance of maintaining eye contact with the speaker, you need to understand the importance of being attentive. Being attentive means “paying close attention to something or someone”. Paying attention and maintaining eye contact does not mean that you should keep staring at the speaker steadfastly. You can always look here and there a little bit. What is important is to be attentive mentally. And it is not really as simple as it may appear to be. Mind is always wavering and focus has to be brought in by a conscious effort. Thus, in order to be attentive, one must literally screen out distractions. Other than the factors in the background, the speaker himself or herself distracts you at times. You may get distracted by the cloth the speaker is wearing. You may get distracted by the speaker’s gestures or body language. You may get distracted by the speaker’s language, tonality or even grammatical errors. The last but certainly not the least, you may get distracted by your own preconceived notions about the speaker or the subject. Hence, being attentive is the toughest and one of the most important components of effective listening.
Keeping an open mind and not being judgmental
All of us have our own ideas and feelings on a variety of subjects. While listening to someone, if our thoughts do not match with the thoughts of the speaker, we tend to start being judgmental. Unless the subject is highly black and white and based on quantifiable facts and figures, we can’t completely agree or disagree on a topic. This is so because in reality there is nothing right or wrong. It’s just the difference of our perception and standpoints. To be honest, even in scenarios or subjects that appear to be completely quantitative, there are people’s own opinions that need to be respected. Sometimes we become so sure of ourselves that we tend to complete the sentences just like a search engine does. This is, unfortunately, a common behavior and shows how people are so sure in assuming what the speaker has to say even before he or she completes the sentence. Such behaviors can be detrimental to effective communication and certainly to effective listening.
Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying
One of the best ways to achieve a high degree of listening skills is to instantaneously create a mental model of what is being said. This could be a real picture or something abstract. This act of yours will not only keep you engaged but also interested. And this technique is easy to remember things because when human beings associate information with visuals, they tend to remember it for a longer period of time. Sometimes we start thinking about what your best response is going to be when your time to ask questions comes. This is not a good idea. You can just jot down a few bullet points from the conversation if you really have a problem remembering everything. But you can’t be listening and thinking at the same time. This is absolutely fetal for effective listening.
We have always been taught not to interrupt. However, in many professional environments we do not fail to control ourselves and end up interrupting the conversation. Sometimes this happens because we can’t take what is being said. And sometimes we interrupt because we can’t just stop ourselves in expressing our own idea of the subject being discussed. Whatever the case be, interrupting a conversation clearly shows that you feel that either you are absolutely convinced that your idea matters more to you than anyone else’s or you do not care what someone else has to say. This also shows your deeply ingrained attitude of considering yourself superior to others and disrespect for people in general. An effective listener would always pen down his thoughts whether it is in the support of what the speaker is saying or otherwise.
Ask your question only when the speaker pauses
As we mentioned in the above section, you must write down your thoughts and speak when the speaker pauses the conversation. In larger gatherings, a good speaker would definitely invite the audience to present their view point. And there is always a way to put forward your questions even if you utterly disagreed with the speaker.
Ask questions to understand and not criticize
As I mentioned before, it is important to ask questions. In fact it shows that you have been attentively listening to the speaker. Also it shows that you have your own viewpoints on the subject. However, just like interrupting the conversation is a bad idea, asking questions to put someone down or just for the purpose of criticizing or nitpicking is a real bad thing to do. This shows that you were listening not to understand but to question. With this attitude, you can never be a good active listener.
Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes and empathize with him
Sometimes we do not intend to criticize but interrupt a conversation out of excitement or to express some strong feelings. For example, let’s assume a colleague is sharing some great memories of his recent offsite meeting. And then he mentions that their common bosses were also present in the meeting. Right at this point, you interrupted the conversation to express your deep emotions about how you dislike the boss and how bad he has been to you. Suddenly, the conversation moved from your colleague’s good memories of the offsite meeting to the common boss in the office. This happens very often with all of us. Sometimes we notice that our question completely took the conversation astray. But we rarely apologize for this behavior. A lack of listening skill can, thus, totally jeopardize a beautiful conversation. And behaviors like these are subconscious behaviours. We do not intend to derail the conversation but we end up doing so because of poor active listening habits.
Support the speaker with consistent feedback
Giving feedback does not mean that you jump into the conversation and appreciate what the speaker is saying. A simple nod with positive facial expressions can do wonders. This gesture would not just tell the speaker that you have been listening to him but a positive gesture will motivate him to speak more. Many of us show a blank face when the speaker looks at us hoping for some kind of approval. A simple “hmm” sound can send the message to the speaker that you are listening actively.
Pay attention to what isn’t said—to nonverbal cues
Always remember that words communicate less than half the feelings. It’s not about what is being said. It’s about how it’s being said. So, one of the essential components of active listening is not just plainly listening to the words of the speaker but actively understanding the nonverbal cues. If you can learn the art of understanding the verbal cues, you would never be picking the words and making mountains of a molehill. Some things are said jokingly to lighten the mood but if taken otherwise, this can lead to a totally different outcome. Hence, active listening does not just include listening to the words but to the non-verbal cues also.
Summarize the conversation
t’s a great way to ask a question or add to the conversation. You can summarize the conversation in a few words and then put your thoughts forward. This makes your ideas count more because the speaker then knows that you have carefully understood what he said before giving your opinion. In such a scenario, even if you disagree with the speaker, he or she would take your inputs as positive and constructive.