Active listening can make the biggest difference in our communication skills. That we listen – and listen well, can make us incredibly effective communicators.
What do you feel like when someone really gives you their attention and listens to what you say? What is it like when they can show that they have truly heard you?
For many of us, this is a less than common experience…being listened to allows a greater connection, better understanding and ability to feel valued in our views, opinions and experiences.
As a potentially profound part of our communications, listening is the number one skill! So – how do we know if we are listening as effectively as we could?
- Focused listening – if we are anticipating what we want to say while someone else is talking, and simply waiting for a pause to say it, this is a clear indicator that we are not listening properly to the other person. It is a habit many of us have, but one we can unlearn if we want to. When this happens to you, you can mentally place your own thoughts to the side…
- ‘We have two ears and one mouth – use them in these proportions’ – listening for twice as long as we talk is a useful rule of thumb to use. Many of us are less aware of how long we speak for, in contrast to our awareness of how long someone else talks for!
- Allow people to talk without interruption – let them keep their flow of conversation, unless, of course, they are speaking without any space for others.
- Allow yourself to really focus on the speaker – how do they look when they are speaking? When are they animated? When are they subdued? Does this reflect what they are sharing with you?
- Try to listen for what is not being said…what do you think the emotions are behind the words?
- Be aware that we have our own assumptions associated with our language. When I talk about a dog – one person will imagine a Dalmatian, another, a Terrier…we can do this with so many words. It is worth checking and clarifying.
- Demonstrate you are listening through non-verbal communication: nodding your head, noises of agreement / understanding, eye contact. When running training courses we do an exercise where people avoid non verbal communication with their partner – it really stops the conversation and makes people feel very uncomfortable…we can do the opposite and really allow communications to flow.
- Summarise the main points to show you have listened and understood. This also allows the other person to correct anything you did not pick up. People will often feedback that this aspect allows them to feel understood – particularly when we use the words they have used, to demonstrate that we have listened.