The average person believes that they are a pretty good listener. Some of this attitude comes from self-confidence. I’ve also found that many people feel like not talking when others are speaking, being aware of your non-verbal communication, and be able to specifically repeat what has just been said qualifies them as being a good listener.
Unfortunately it does not.
What does it mean to actually listen to someone? In short, good listeners are actively involved in the conversation instead of sitting on the sidelines. The goal isn’t to be a parrot who can repeat something. The goal should be to understand without a doubt the other person’s perspectives and opinions that are being offered.
Understanding is very different from repetition.
How can me make sure we understand more and repeat less of what someone tells us? Here are are few tricks that I’ve found which help me to stay engaged with the listening process.
#1. Listening doesn’t tear others down. Even when there’s a contrary opinion, good listening must have respect for that opinion. Far too often, and I’m guilty of this myself, there’s this need to interrupt someone because we feel they are “wrong.” We’ve got to step into the other person’s shoes and determine why they think they are “right.”
#2. Listening is about asking questions. Good listeners don’t just sit back and do their best bobblehead impression. They are actively asking questions when they’re not sure about what they have heard. Listening is a two-way conversation that requires dialog to go back and forth. Sometimes it may be necessary to be passive, but even then, I’ve found that at the end of the dialogue, it’s better to go back and ask questions then get up and leave.
#3. Listening is still about repetition. It’s just not the word-for-word repetition many people seem to think it is. The goal of listening is to make sure you’ve understood the exact point the other person or people are trying to make. I’ve found that for this process to be effective, I need to start with a phrase like this. “What it sounds like you’re trying to say is this…” and then I offer the impressions received from the dialogue. Then I end it with, “Does this mean we’re on the same page?” If not, the incorrect impressions I received can be adjusted for better understanding.
#4. Listening helps each person involved become better. Listeners will invariably provide meaningful feedback when a conversation is over. The trick here is that you can’t just jump into the middle of a conversation and attempt to solve problems because you think you’ve got solutions. I’ve found it is much easier to wait until the conversation has been completed to begin the solutions process because then all parties can be involved in finding the right answer. It’s cooperative instead of combative this way.
Listening is a skill that we can all develop. As long as there is a willingness to become active within a dialogue, there is an opportunity to practice these skills.
How do you feel about actively listening? Can you share a listening success story? I’d love to hear some of your thoughts and comments about what listening means to you.