By practicing the skills associated with active listening, you can become more effective in your personal and professional relationships.
1. Start by stopping. Take a moment to inhale and exhale quietly before you begin to listen. Your job as a listener is to receive information openly and accurately.
2. Don’t worry about what you’ll say when the time comes. Silence can be a beautiful thing.
3. Join the Sender’s team. When she pauses, summarize what you believe she has said. “What I’m hearing is that we need to focus on marketing as well as sales. Is that correct?” Be attentive to physical as well as verbal communications. “I hear you saying that we should focus on marketing. But the way you’re shaking your head tells me the idea may not really appeal to you—is that right?”
4. Don’t multitask while listening. Listening is a full-time job. It’s tempting to multitask when you and the Sender are in different places, but doing that is counterproductive. The human mind can only focus on one thing at a time. Listening with only half your brain increases the chances that you’ll have questions later, requiring more of the Speaker’s time. (And when the speaker is in the same room, multitasking signals a disinterest that is considered rude.)
5. Try to empathize with the Sender’s point of view. You don’t have to agree; but can you find common ground?
6. Ask questions. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you haven’t understood the Sender’s point. You may even help the Sender clarify the Message.
7. Establish eye contact. Making eye contact with the speaker (if appropriate for the culture) is important.
8. What is the goal of this communication? Ask yourself this question at different points during the communication to keep the information flow on track. Be polite. Differences in opinion can be the starting point of consensus.
9. It’s great to be surprised. Listen with an open mind, not just for what you want to hear.
10. Pay attention to what is not said. Does the Sender’s body language seem to contradict their message? If so, clarification may be in order.
At times, everyone has difficulty staying completely focused during a lengthy presentation. We can sometimes have difficulty listening to even relatively brief messages. Some of the factors that interfere with good listening might exist beyond our control, but others are manageable. It’s helpful to be aware of these factors so that they interfere as little as possible with understanding the message.
Source: Adapted from information in Barrett, D. J. (2006). Leadership communication. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin; Improving verbal skills. Retrieved July 2, 2008, from http://www.itstime.com/aug97.htm; Ten tips: Active Listening from Communication at work. (2007, June 4). Retrieved July 2, 2008, from http://communication.atwork-network.com/2007/06/04/ten-tips-active-listening.