07 November 2016

The art of effective listening

Author :

Have you ever noticed that most people don’t actually listen to hear what you’re saying anymore?

They listen to respond. Rather than taking the time to consider what you’re saying, or why you’re saying it, they’re already ten steps ahead inside their own minds, formulating an answer to give you.

When I was a child I read a book my Father gave to me. I can’t remember what it’s called but I can remember one key lesson in it.

“When someone is talking to you give them your full attention. Listen, acknowledge, wait for them to finish speaking and then reply.”

While effective listening seems to be something of a dying art these days, there are ways you can improve your listening skills. Here are just a few tips that will turn you from a disinterested listener, into an active listener.

Keep eye contact:

Look the person who is speaking to you in the eye and keep eye contact. It’s important you not only listen, but appear to be listening. We’ve all had it happen when we are talking to someone where they appear be watching the world go by, or looking at someone over your shoulder. If a person is talking to you, give them the courtesy of giving them your attention.

Pay attention:

This ties in with keeping eye contact, but when someone is talking and you need to listen put down the smartphone, the pen or anything else you are fiddling with. It takes a moment to fully engage with the person who is communicating with you. If a portion of your brain is busy doodling on a piece of paper or flipping through your Facebook timeline you are not listening with your whole attention on what is being said.

Focus on the content:

Whether you like what you’re hearing or not, focusing on the content that is being delivered. It’s not the person talking who is important but what they are saying. How many times do you hear a politician on the television begin to speak and automatically your mind goes to why you don’t like the person, rather than trying to hear the message they are attempting to deliver.

Wait your turn:

Interrupting is not a sign you are actively listening. It’s a sign you have already made up your mind and have an answer prepared. There is nothing more annoying than being interrupted. When someone in the office, or in life, is trying to explain something to you all you have to do is pay attention and listen. Once the person is finished, paraphrase what they’ve said to show you understand or ask a question for further clarification.

Avoid predicting the outcome:

Avoid thinking ahead in the conversation. You may well know where the conversation is going, but you’re just as likely to be wrong as you are to be right. By paying attention, listening actively and waiting for the message to be finished you’ll be in a much better position to respond than if you simply jump the gun and hope you’re correct.

Ask open ended questions:

If you need clarification on what has been discussed take the time to ask clear, open ended questions. There’s nothing wrong with failing to grasp a concept and it shows the person who has been speaking to you that you’ve been listening. Whether that conversation is one-on-one or in a training situation if you're not 100% sure what's expected of you, ask.

Ultimately effective listening is about respect. While you might think that jumping to conclusions or trying to answer before the person has finished speaking shows how intelligent you are, or how across the topic you are, what it shows is you’re not really paying attention. What you’re doing is waiting to speak, not listening to hear.

Do you think people listen to you when you speak? Are they actually hearing you or are they simply biding their time, waiting to speak themselves.

Over the next week, take note of how active the people listening to you are and more importantly, how actively you listen to others. I think you’ll be surprised by just how often we don’t actually listen when we think we are.

Mike Cullen has recently returned to Akolade after a period as the conference producer for one of Australia's leading economic think tanks. Mike began working in the conference industry in 2007 after looking for a career change from the high pressured world of inbound customer service. Mike has worked for some of the most well-known conference and media companies in the B2B space and in his spare time is working on his first novel in a planned Epic Fantasy trilogy.

Mike’s most recently published story, Seeds of Eden, is featured in the Sproutlings Anthology released in March 2016. 

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