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"Huh? What Did You Say?" Seven Secrets to Active Listening

April 27, 2010

“Listening is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.” – John Marshall

    There seems to be a growing realization of the importance of active listening and solid communication skills in business. After all, lack of attention and respectful listening can be costly – leading to mistakes, poor service, misaligned goals, wasted time and lack of teamwork.

    Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationships with others.

     We listen to obtain information. We listen to understand. We listen for enjoyment. We listen to learn. Given all this listening we do daily, you would think we’d be good at it. Wrong!! Depending on the study being quoted, we remember a dismal 25-50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers or spouse for 10 minutes, they only really hear 2½-5 minutes of the conversation.

      Turn it around and it reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren’t hearing the whole message either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25- 50%, but what if they’re not?

     Clearly, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, you will improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade, and negotiate. What’s more, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings – all necessary for workplace and personal success.

THE SECRETS TO LISTENING WELL

“You have two ears and one mouth— try to listen twice as much as you talk.”- Larcena Walker My Mom

Here are seven key elements of active listening. They all help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they are saying. 

1. Pay attention.
Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognize that what is not said also speaks loudly.
Email us for 5 to do’s associated with this point.  
 
2. Try to Paraphrase.
To paraphrase, you simply reword what the speaker has said. For example, the speaker might say, “She was foolish to quit her job.” The listener might respond, “I hear you saying that you believe she shouldn’t have quit.” A great way to clarify what the speaker said.
 
3.  Show that you are listening.
Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.  
Email us for 4 to do’s associated with this point 

4.  Provide feedback.
Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions. Email us for 3 to do’s associated with this point 

5.  Ask Open Ended Questions.
An open ended question explores a person’s statement without requiring a simple “yes” or “no” answer. 
 
6.  Defer judgment.
Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message. Email us for 2 to do’s associated with this point.
 
7.  Respond Appropriately.
Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down. Email us for 3 to do’s associated with this point

Key Points:
“I think one lesson I have learned is that there is no substitute for paying attention.” – Diane Sawyer

It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener.

Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself constantly that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors and concentrate on the message. Ask question, reflect, and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message. If you don’t, then you’ll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different!

Listening to and acknowledging other people may seem deceptively simple, but doing it well, particularly when disagreements arise, takes true talent. As with any skill, listening well takes plenty of practice.

Start using active listening today to become a better communicator and improve your workplace productivity and relationships. 

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