Sunday morning in Piazza del Popolo, Nov 2009 - 46Active listening is one of the few skills we know we need, but only few are very accomplished. It is, by far, one of the most important skills anyone could have. The ability to listen can have an influential impact on your effectiveness in your job and the quality of your relationship with other.

A few of the reasons we listen:

  • To learn
  • To understand
  • For enjoyment
  • To gain information

Given these powerful reasons to listen, you would think we would all be better. Sharpen your own ability so you can hear what others are really saying.

  1. Actively listen; allow yourself to become so engaged that nothing else can interrupt. No multi-tasking or juggling. Focus only on the speaker and put aside all distracting thoughts or side conversations. Avoid mentally preparing your own remarks. Listen to their words and the tone which they are delivered, and observe the speaker’s body language.
  2. Stay engaged and show that you are listening. Use your own body language and gestures to encourage the speaker and convey your attention. Nod occasionally, smile and use other facial expressions. Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting. If you find it difficult to stay engaged, repeat their words mentally as they say them. This can help reinforce their message.
  3. Provide feedback at appropriate times. Our personal filters and beliefs can distort what we hear. To understand what is being said, reflect back what you hear and ask questions. Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically.
  4. Avoid interrupting to improve information flow. A break in the conversation, no matter the length or cause, is frustrating to the speaker and a waste of time. Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions. Interrupting with counter arguments inhibits your full understanding of the message.
  5. Empathize and respond respectfully. Active listening to gain information and perspective is the model for respect and understanding. Be candid and honest in your responses, but avoid attacking or putting the speaker down. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

Becoming a better listening will improve your ability to negotiate, increase productivity, and avoid conflicts and misunderstandings. All are necessary for a successful workplace; and all are the result of better listening. Good communication skills require self-awareness. Understand your own style of communication, and it will help you to create good and lasting impressions on others. Old habits of poor listening are hard to break, but with concentration and determination a new habit can be created.

Image Credit: Creative Commons License Ed Yourdon

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