10 Easy Ways to Increase Efficiency (and Your Popularity) with Active Listening
The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply. -Anonymous
Are You Aware?
Are you aware that you're usually not really listening when someone is talking to you? Do you also realize that most people aren't really listening to you when you're talking to them?
Think about it… In most conversations we're much more concerned about what we want to say next than we are with what the other person is saying. We're also constantly thinking about other things while engaged in conversation- our next meeting, what we're going to eat for lunch, the stupid thing we said this morning, etc. To make matters worse, often we're even doing things while we're talking- texting, eating, looking out the window, etc.
The problem is that this constant inattentiveness wastes time and money because it leads to countless, often avoidable misunderstandings and conflict. It also reduces your effectiveness in communication, leadership and problem solving. Ultimately, it can erode all trust in both professional and personal relationships. You may think you're being efficient when you multitask while you're talking, but in fact you're doing just the opposite.
The solution to this problem is active listening. Active listening requires that you fully concentrate, understand and respond (give feedback) to what is being said. It means giving 100% of your attention to the person speaking. It is purposeful and deliberate. As the phrase implies, it is the opposite of passive, and no multitasking allowed!
It's not just that actively attending to what someone says is a polite, courteous thing to do (which of course it is), but you should also actively listen for purely selfish reasons. By actually listening, you have a better chance to respond effectively, even more persuasively because you will better understand the other person's perspective and the specific reasons s/he may not agree with you. You gain more information, which helps you interpret that information, which in turn helps you formulate better responses and solutions. Active listening is also flattering and often disarming because most people aren't used to it.
10 Simple, Highly Effective ways to Improve Active Listening Skills
1. Always look at the person who is speaking, face them and make eye contact.
2. Stay open minded and non-judgmental while listening.
3. Get out of your head! Be aware when you become lost in your own thoughts and consciously shift all of your attention back to the speaker.
4. Don't jump to conclusions about what the speaker is going to say next, e.g. don't finish their sentences- mentally or verbally.
5. Focus on the content of what someone is saying rather than the delivery.
6. Try to understand main ideas and key points, rather than details.
7. Ask questions for clarity, but don't interrupt.
8. Give feedback (verbal and non-verbal) to confirm your understanding.
9. Paraphrase and summarize what the speaker said when s/he has finished speaking.
10. Put your phone away and turn off the ringer for crying out loud!
To sum it up, active listening saves time and money by decreasing miscommunication, confusion and conflict. It increases productivity because communication is clearer and more direct. Active listening also helps create a safe, collaborative environment by increasing trust and mutual respect, which streamlines problem solving and efficient team work. In addition, you'll be perceived as more likeable and intelligent. As an added bonus, others will often follow your example and actively listen when you speak!