You hear people talk everyday, but do you really listen? Developing your listening skills will improve both your personal and business interactions. You can avoid embarrassing misunderstandings, learn of developing problems before they become crises, and show people you care.
Good listening requires getting outside yourself and connecting with others. First, you must stop talking. You cannot listen while you are talking. Here are other important listening skills:
- Take part in only one conversation at a time. You may hear two people, but you can’t effectively listen to two people at once.
- Ask questions when you don’t understand or when you need clarification. Don’t ask questions to show how smart you are about a subject.
- Don’t interrupt. Let the speaker finish before you ask questions or respond to what the person is saying.
- Show interest. Look at the speaker’s face, mouth, eyes, and hands. They give you non-verbal clues to what the person is saying or feeling.
- Concentrate on what the person is saying. Actively focus your attention on the speaker’s words, ideas, and feelings related to the subject.
- Avoid drawing premature conclusions. When you do, you tune out the speaker by either thinking, “Hurry up and finish. I see your point.” or by rudely interrupting and saying, “Yes, yes. I know what you mean. Then what?” You might misunderstand the entire conversation because you reached a wrong conclusion.
- Don’t become angry at what the person is saying. Anger prevents you from understanding what the person really means.
- React to ideas, not the speaker. Don’t let your reactions to the person influence your interpretation of what he or she says. Focus your response on what is said, not on any shortcomings you believe the speaker may have.
- Listen for what the speaker does not say. Determining what the person leaves out or avoids often tells you as much as what the person says.
Another listening skill, sometimes called active listening, is to paraphrase. Paraphrasing not only helps make sure you understand what the person said but also helps ensure you understand what the person really meant. Paraphrasing conveys your genuine interest in listening and understanding and may also make the other person more willing to try to understand your point of view.
Be sure you wait until the person finishes speaking and don’t parrot someone’s words. Be specific when you paraphrase. Often you want to be more specific than the speaker.
For example, someone says to you, “Betty is a lousy manager.” You could respond, “You think Betty isn’t right for her job?” But if the person simply agrees, you have no more information than you did before.
However, if you respond, “You think Betty is dishonest?” then the other person is more likely to say something like, “No, but she doesn’t plan and she forgets details.” Now you have specific information.
Remember that the speaker is only partly responsible for effective communication. You as the listener are equally responsible for making sure the communication is clear. Developing your listening skills can provide personal and professional benefits.