Why should we practice active listening?
Improving your listening skills will have a positive impact on your interactions with colleagues, clients, suppliers and prospects. It will lead to better conversations by building trust between people and help prevent conflict or frustration through miscommunication and misunderstanding. Being a skilled listener will lead to better relationships both in business and in your private lives.
What is the difference between passive and active listening?
Passive listening is the physical process of hearing sounds and because our brains work four times faster than we are able to hear, our minds have the tendency to wonder. I am sure we have all been in a meeting where we have been distracted by other thoughts, and although you are aware of hearing the sound of your colleagues’ voices, you might not have fully, consciously taken in everything that was said. The danger of this is that we might only selectively hear parts of the conversation and potentially misunderstand the speaker’s intention. Active listening is a learnt skill that with practice can be improved. It is the process of receiving information from both verbal and non-verbal stimuli to construct meaning; it is to listen with thoughtful attention.
How to improve your listening skills?
- Be present in the moment
Don’t multi task. By this I don’t just mean physical multi-tasking like looking at your phone while engaging in a conversation, but also mental multi-tasking; thinking about your day while someone is talking could greatly diminish your ability to actively listen and engage fully in that conversation.
- Set aside your personal opinions
If you disagree with the speaker or silently judge what they are saying, you may not take in everything that they are saying. Instead of forcing your opinions onto the speaker, which may lead to conflict, you could try to understand their opinions from their point of view.
- Use open ended questions
Assume you have something to learn from every conversation. By asking open questions and allowing them time to think, and reply in their own time, without interuption, you will have deeper more meaningful conversations. Don’t be afraid of silence, just listen and remember if your mouth is open, you are not listening or learning anything.
- Go with the flow and allow thoughts to come and go
Don’t store questions in your head or feel like you need to ask those questions at any cost. Often if we just listen, those questions will be answered organically or they may no longer be relevant.
- Don’t equate your experience with theirs – all experiences are individual and it’s not about you.
The way we experience the world varies according to our past experiences, age, gender, culture and beliefs. Therefore telling someone that you understand exactly how they must be feeling because you have been through a similar experience, can be insulting and hurtful. It’s better to say, “I cannot begin to imagine how you must be feeling right now.” Then it is likely that they will tell you. Emotional labeling might also be a useful tool to use in emotionally charged situations; “Although you said that everything is fine, your body language and tone of voice indicates that you might be angry, do you want to talk about it?”