The ability to listen and truly hear what is being said is an essential skill. Primarily we listen to absorb information, to get pleasure, to understand and to learn. However, research indicates that only 25 – 50% of what we hear, we remember – that is basically less than half of a conversation or presentation. Obviously the more we hear and remember, the better our communication skills will be, which is better for personal relationships, as well as working relationships.
Actively listening to others in the correct way takes a good deal of self-awareness, as does actively communicating with others. Get these skills right and lasting impressions will be what we leave others with. Productivity improves when active listening skills are fine-tuned, as does the ability to negotiate, and influence. Conflict literally flies out of the window!
Fine-tuning active listening takes every sense we possess. We make a concerted, conscious effort to hear not only what is being said, but consider body language, tone, and other nuances to get the message behind the words. It takes presence, understanding, or at the very least concentration to not lose focus or become bored.
It often helps to repeat in our minds what the other person is saying, and telling them that you are listening. For example I have a colleague who needs to repeat themselves several times to ensure for themselves that they have got the message across. I often become quite on the telephone while I am listening to him. He will ask “are you there?”, I reply “I am listening to you”, and he can complete his repetition, but that reassurance that I am quiet, but “listening” reassures him that I have actively listened to what has been said, and taken it in.
Acknowledgement that one is listening does not even necessarily mean using the words. An affirmation of attention can be as simple as a nod of the head (use positive body language), or say “I understand”, or even just “yes”. By continuing to affirm that one is actively hearing what is being spoken, it reminds the listener to stay focused too. Even a hand gesture can affirm that the listener is still on track.
An occasional question or comment will also not go astray. The main thing is not to try and take over the conversation. Remember this is an exercising in active listening. Comments or questions should be relevant to the conversation, and the listener may even like to ask “is this what you are saying”, and briefly recap. This communicates that the message is being understood.
There are so many techniques available to improve active listening skills. Just like there are many techniques available to improve just about anything. Non-verbal communication “speaks” just as loudly, as does positive, comfortable eye-contact (don’t stare the speaker down). Tips such as these can be found everywhere on the World Wide Web.
Just remember that it is not cool to make up rebuttals along in the mind as the speaker continues to regale you with whatever the subject matter. Your opinion does not count in active listening. Everyone has an opinion, like everyone has a crack in their butt, but there is an appropriate time and place to share this – not during an active listening exercise.