Have you ever caught yourself ‘listening’ to your boss explain a new policy and you decide to take a little mental vacation to the Bahamas? Within a few moments, you’re relaxing on the beach with your favorite beverage and the sound of their voice melts into the sound of the waves hitting the beach. But when you finally return to reality, you remember nothing from the conversation! If you’re lucky, you’re the only one that noticed and your boss can’t detect the scent of coconut!
Or have you ever been ‘listening’ to a client (or prospective client) explain a problem they have, but as soon as you hear one key word or phrase, you jump miles ahead of them in your brain, busily planning what you will say to help them (if only they would just stop talking and let you jump in!) But when they do stop talking and you offer your brilliant suggestion, it’s clear from the look on their face or the dead air or their frustrated/angry response that because of your lack of good listening skills, you have missed the point entirely!
We were all given two ears and only one mouth…perhaps there’s a reason for that. Could it be because in good communication, listening might be twice as important as talking? Psychologist Carl Rogers states that “man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.” A lack of good listening skills isn’t just ineffective, it’s expensive! It can cause misunderstandings, mistakes, damage client and employee relationships, increase the number of angry or unsatisfied customers and negatively impact a company’s overall profitability.
So if listening is such a critical part of good communication, how can we become better listeners? The fact is that learning to be a good listener can be challenging, but it can be done by practicing a few simple guidelines:
- Attention: Give your full attention to the person who is speaking. Multi-tasking and good listening aren’t compatible. So stop whatever else you’re doing, and give the speaker your attention.
- Attitude: Attitude plays a big part in active listening. You are the one that makes the decision to give your attention to the speaker, so if you must, convince yourself that they have something useful to say. They probably do!
- Focus: Make sure you are focused on listening – if your mind starts to wander, try adjusting your body position. Take brief notes and write down any questions that you might want to ask them when they finish.
- Acknowledge: Whether on the phone or face-to-face, use good voice tone and ‘verbal head nods’ (“uh huh”, “yes”, “mmm hmmm”, “oh”, “I see”) to let the speaker know that you are paying attention. Be sure to also incorporate good body language in face-to-face communications. Sit up straight, lean in slightly if appropriate, and maintain good eye contact.
- Pause: Before you speak let the speaker finish what they are saying. Don’t interrupt – it can give the impression that you aren’t listening even if you are. It might even help to take a few breaths between when they finish speaking and you begin. This will also give the impression that you’re really considering what they just said.
- Confirm: Make sure you are clear about what was said before you respond. Briefly restate or paraphrase what they said so that you can confirm your understanding. For example, “What I heard you say is…” or “If I understand correctly, then…”
Hear Ye, Hear Ye – here’s the good news! Active listening is one of the easiest, least expensive and most effective ways to improve your company’s sales, customer service and overall communication. As a better listener, you will learn new things, be more helpful and insightful, create an emotional bond between you and the other person, and also build and maintain relationships more easily. And that’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time!
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