How many times have you wanted to talk about a subject very important to you, only to find that the person with whom you’re talking isn’t really listening? Oh, she looks like she’s listening, but she’s really not paying attention at all. Doesn’t it make you want to scream?
Communication isn’t just about talking, it’s about listening. In fact, communication only happens when all parties are engaged in uncovering and understanding the meaning behind the words. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of chatter!
During active listening, a listener gives feedback to the speaker, confirming an understanding of what the speaker has said by asking questions and making clarifying statements. Rather than waiting his turn to speak or allowing himself to be distracted, he’s reassuring the speaker that he’s interested in the subject matter and wants to completely understand the point the speaker is trying to make. It’s the ultimate way of making a fellow participant feel safe in the conversation.
There are a lot of sites out there that give advice about active listening or even (over) explain its aspects, but what you really need to remember is this:
Pay close enough attention to what’s being said that you can paraphrase – If you can step into the conversation by saying, “So let me see if I understand this correctly. What you’re saying is….” then you’re listening hard enough. If you’re saying, “Uh-huh, uh-huh” but not really recapping a set of statements, then try listening a little harder.
Give good body cues – Make eye contact, lean in while the speaker is talking, and don’t let your gaze drift from his. If you’re leaning back in a chair reading what’s on your computer monitor, the speaker isn’t going to feel like you’re paying attention to him, even if you are.
Minimize distractions – I always feel special when I walk into someone’s office and they turn off their radio or push their monitor in another direction in order to pay closer attention to what I have to say. When someone is talking to you, do your best to minimize those things that could steal your attention away from the conversation.
Keep yourself out of the conversation – Avoid sharing how you handled a similar issue, unless you’re specifically asked for advice. Keep an open mind about the subject matter, even if you don’t agree. And if someone is complaining about your previous behavior or choices, wait until he or she is done before you launch into a defense – better yet, don’t launch into a defense, but ask those clarifying questions and make sure that you totally understand the other’s point of view before crafting your response.
If you’re already smiling, thinking about how wonderful it would be to have that kind of attention when you’re talking to someone, then you know just how popular you will become paying that same rapt attention to others.
But what if no one listens to you the way you listen to others. That’s not fair! What do you do about that?
Well, take those same hints for active listening and turn them around a bit:
Help your audience by paraphrasing – If no one in your audience is being kind enough to break in to clarify his understanding of your point, then do it for him! Pause mid-point and say, “Let me stop here for a moment. Am I being clear about what I’m trying to say? Is there anything up to this point that you’d like me to go over again?” By posing these questions, you’re thrusting active listening upon your audience.
Minimize things that could be distracting during your conversation – Don’t be afraid to ask your audience to turn off the television for a moment while you make an important point.
Keep your audience out of the conversation – When I’m in a heated conversation about whether democrats or republicans are right about a particular matter, I will always approach someone with an opposing view by saying, “I understand you see the problem that way, and I can agree with you in many respects. But do you understand my point of view?” If someone is attacking you for a previous action, listen politely to the end and then start your conversation by saying, “I can understand how you see it this way. But…”
The more you practice active listening, the better you’ll become at all-around conversations. If nothing else, good listeners always have a ton of friends and are sought after like Super Bowl tickets. Hone your skills and enjoy being the person all your friends gravitate to!
Next post: Thursday, May 24