The ability to listen effectively is the foundation upon which we build our strongest relationships. But effective listening skills do not always come naturally. Author and editor E.W. Howe once said “No man would listen to you talk if he didn’t know it was his turn next.” That statement, though spoken in jest, sadly describes the way many people communicate. They cannot really listen to others because they are too busy thinking about what they want to say.
The good news is that poor listening skills are fixable. Incorporating the following fundamental listening concepts can make almost anyone a better, more effective listener:
Focus Your Attention On The Speaker:
Look directly at the other person and give him/her your undivided attention. The pace of modern life offers myriad distractions that prevent us from listening carefully. Do not allow your attention to drift while you are interacting with others. Avoid things like reading the newspaper, playing with a mobile phone, watching television or painting the bedroom while you are communicating. Focus on the interaction.
If you do not have time to actively listen to what is said, postpone the conversation and continue it later.
Strive to Understand:
Almost everybody hears, but most do not really listen. Several university studies determined that a majority of people retain only about half of what they hear immediately after hearing it and recall diminishes further as time passes. It is not the words that are important, but the meaning contained in those words. Strive to understand those meanings.
Do Not Interrupt:
This probably should have been the first thing on the list. Interrupting shows you are more interested in your own ideas than the thoughts of the other person. People do not react well to being interrupted, as it indicates a lack of respect. Always give the other person the opportunity to express themselves and finish their thoughts before responding. By doing so, you show respect to the speaker and give yourself the opportunity to understand everything he/she is saying.
Do Not Jump To Conclusions:
This concept goes hand-in hand with not interrupting. Fight the urge to make judgments about the speaker’s story before he/she is finished. You cannot be a good listener and jump to conclusions (and by extension formulating a response) at the same time. Let the person finish speaking before you think about your response. If you do not, you might miss the speaker’s most valuable points.
Ask the speaker pertinent questions. This demonstrates that you are engaged in the conversation. It also clarifies and reinforces the speaker’s meaning in your mind. By asking for clarification in a nonthreatening way, you may learn more than you ever expected.
Summarize the Conversation Occasionally:
The active listener is the most effective listener. Train yourself to make thoughtful comments when the speaker pauses. Summarize the speaker’s story as you understand it. This will show him/her that you are interested in what is being said, and allow the correction of any mistaken perceptions.
Try to Determine What the Speaker Needs:
We all have needs. What does the person speaking to you need from the conversation? Are they seeking advice? Are they just telling a story or do they have a problem that needs resolution? Maybe they just want to share a problem with you, but do not expect or desire your advice.
Perhaps they just want to vent frustration. Understanding what the speaker needs can help you respond appropriately.
Many people take listening for granted. Many people who think they are good listeners are not. With a little effort and attention you can do more than just hear. You can listen! Listen first, talk later. You will be amazed at how it improves your relationships.