How many times have you engaged in a conversation where you were simply not being heard by the other person? How did it make you feel? Frustrated? Angry?
Maintaining good communication is paramount to building effective and productive relationships with others. An integral part of good communication includes being an active listener.
Why is active listening important?
Effective listening is one of the most important skills you can develop. Developing these skills will help you better understand what people are really saying which will significantly decrease those misunderstandings that so often lead to conflict. Additionally, with information comes power. If you can learn to become an active listener, you will ultimately improve your ability to influence, persuade, and negotiate outcomes both at home and at work. Finally, when you actively pay attention to the verbal and nonverbal information being conveyed by pertinent people such as your family members, friends, coworkers, bosses, or clients, you will find it easier to work with them to build rapport, show support, and resolve problems in productive and rewarding ways.
To improve your listening skills, master the following techniques.
(1) Set the tone: There is nothing like a noisy setting or one with lots of distractions to derail a meaningful conversation. Conduct your exchange in an environment that will guarantee optimal results.
(2) Be attentive: Maintain a posture of interest by standing or sitting up straight. Keep good eye contact throughout the conversation and don’t let yourself become distracted.
(3) Seek clarification: Conversations can become messy whenever the speaker is unable or unwilling to relay a clear message. Ask the speaker pertinent questions to draw out the information you need to fully understand key points.
(4) Be welcoming: Allow the individual to speak before making comments or giving your opinion. Express yourself in a way that suggests a clear desire to understand and not one that applies any form of judgement – good or bad.
(5) Show respect: Demonstrate respect for the person who is talking. Refrain from discourteous nonverbal behaviors such as checking your cell phone or glancing at the clock. These actions convey a lack of interest in what the person is trying to express.
(6) Engage in meaningful dialogue: Make a connection with the speaker by asking for his or her opinions or ideas on the topic. Keep your conversation open and the information flowing. The more you share, the better chance your conversation will end with a positive outcome.
(7) Watch for nonverbal cues: During the conversation, pay attention to the speaker’s facial expressions and tone of voice. Watch for body language, including the person’s posture, position to you, and the folding of arms. Nonverbal cues will most likely provide you greater insights into the speaker’s true intent.
What are the barriers to good listening?
All of us may come to a conversation with certain barriers that, if left unchecked, can hamper our ability to effectively listen. These barriers include:
(1) Our state of mind: If we are fearful, worried, or angry about the encounter or the person, it can cause us to react to our emotions instead of act or respond to the conversation at hand.
(2) Time on task: When we have limited time to engage in the conversation, we are more likely to dismiss key pieces of important information and focus on ending our encounter within the prescribed timeline.
(3) Personal biases or prejudices: For whatever reason, we may have stereotypical attitudes that cause us to be reluctant to give our speaker the time needed to hear them out.
(4) Foreign accent: When we engage with someone who has a thick foreign accent or inability to communicate well in our language, we can find it challenging to fully understand or maintain interest in what the person is saying.
To develop your active listening skills, practice these techniques until they become a natural part of your everyday conversations with others. Establish concrete strategies to conquer any barriers and focus on making this a WIN for both parties.
“Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood”-Stephen R. Covey
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Written by: Patricia K. Flanigan, Smart Strategies for Successful Living
Patricia K. Flanigan has worked in higher education for over 28 years. She holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of La Verne as well as a M.A. in Latin American Studies and B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before retiring and moving to Idaho in 2015, she served as the dean of online education and learning resources at Saddleback College, a large community college in Southern California. She currently consults in higher education, volunteers for AARP, writes for a local magazine, and serves as an Affiliate Faculty member at Boise State University and on the Board for LEARN Idaho. Since February 2017, she has been the founding director for Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a community-based website designed to promote quality aging. As an educator, her focus is to inspire others to live and age well.