Most people spend about 70% of their waking hours in some form of verbal communication. Yet, how many of us have ever had any formal training in the art of listening? Real listening is an active process that has three basic steps.
Hearing just means listening enough to catch what the speaker is saying. For example, say you were listening to a report on fingerprints, and the speaker mentioned that no two people’s fingerprints are alike. If you can repeat the fact, then you have heard what has been said.
The next part of listening happens when you understand what you have heard. Let’s use the scenario of the fingerprints again. When you hear that no two people’s fingerprints are alike, think about what that might mean. You might think, “Maybe this means that the pattern of stripes is different on every person’s fingers.”
After you are sure that you understand what the speaker has said, think about whether it makes sense. Do you believe what you have heard? You might think, “How could the patterns of stripes be different on every person’s fingers? But then again, every zebra’s stripes are different too. I think this seems believable.”
Here are some tips on becoming a good listener:
- Listen with unconditional acceptance. That means listening without an agenda or preconceived ideas about the outcome. It simply means that you suspend judgment. The state of unconditional acceptance frees your mind to really listen for other clues and for “in-between” messages.
- Listening involves more than simply hearing the words, it also requires active involvement that includes understanding, acknowledging, and responding.
- Don’t assume that the subject is boring or uninteresting before you’ve heard what the other person has to say.
- Don’t get turned off when someone is nervous, stutters or has an irritating voice. The key to good listening is to listen to the message.
- Tune out distractions and focus on the speaker and the message. Maintain eye contact with the speaker. Lean forward in your chair. Let the speaker’s words “sink in” by immediately trying to understand their point of view. If necessary, turn in your chair, to block out unwanted distractions.
- Structured listening may “clutter” your mind. Asking your self questions like: “What is the speaker’s main point? What is he really saying? Or trying to decide on the speaker’s purpose, evidence or intent, will result in mental argument and analysis, which will “clutter” your mind.
- First listen and acknowledge what you hear – even if you don’t agree with it, before expressing your experience or point of view. Allow the speaker to finish what he wants to say.
- Listen and give a brief restatement of what you have heard (especially feelings), before you express your own needs or position.
- Acknowledging another person’s thoughts and feelings does not have to mean that you approve of or agree with that person’s actions or way of experiencing, or that you will do whatever someone asks.
- Active listening means you are listening for content, meaning, and feelings. To make sure you understand what the person has said (especially when you think you disagree with the statement) paraphrase what you heard.
- When we strongly disagree with something we hear, we begin to argue mentally and we come up with a rebuttal. That is because we resist new information that conflicts with what we believe. Resist the temptation to interrupt the speaker to rebut.
- Don’t get side-tracked by taking too many notes. Use keywords to make important notes and fill in the missing words later.
Kenneth Johnson said that one of the best ways to begin to improve your listening skills is to have a better understanding of some of the most common behaviours you and others demonstrate when not listening effectively. He said that the following listening blocks should not always be considered bad. In certain situations, they can be effective at helping an individual achieve a particular result. The key to its effectiveness is to be aware of when and why you are using them.
Your whole attention is on designing and preparing your next comment. You look interested, but your mind is going a mile a minute because you are thinking about what to say next. Some people rehearse whole chains of responses: I’ll say then he’ll say, and so on.
Negatively labelling people can be extremely limiting. If you prejudge somebody as incompetent or uninformed, you don’t pay much attention to what that person says. A basic rule of listening is that judgments should only be made after you have heard and evaluated the content of the message.
When using this block, you take everything people tell you and refer it back to your own experience. They want to tell you about a toothache, but that reminds you of your oral surgery for receding gums. You launch into your story before they can finish theirs.
You are the great problem solver. You don’t have to hear more than a few sentences before you begin searching for the right advice. However, while you are coming up with suggestions and convincing someone to just try it you may miss what is most important.
This block has you arguing and debating with people who never feel heard because you are so quick to disagree. In fact, your main focus is on finding things to disagree with.
Being right means you will go to great lengths (twist the facts, start shouting, make excuses or accusations, call up past sins) to avoid being wrong. You can’t listen to criticism, you can’t be corrected, and you can’t take suggestions to change.
This listening block involves suddenly changing the subject. You derail the train of conversation when you get uncomfortable or bored with a topic. Another way of derailing is by joking.
Right . . . Absolutely . . . I know . . . Of course you are . . . Incredible . . . Really? You want to be nice, pleasant and supportive. You want people to like you. So you agree with everything. You may half-listen just enough to get the drift, but you are not really involved.
When we dream, we pretend to listen but really tune the other person out while we drift about in our inner fantasies. Instead of disciplining ourselves to truly concentrate on the input we turn the channel to a more entertaining subject.
By Elsabé Manning
Reference: Kenneth R Johnson