Active Listening

Active Listening


When we talk about communication we tend to think about verbal and non-verbal communication, but the most overlooked part of communication is listening; the ability and willingness to actively listen is rapidly becoming a skill of the past as technology and busy schedules take over our lives.  With phones, streamed music, open-plan offices and a general increase in distractions it is rare to witness Active Listening in practice.  Years ago attention spans in class rooms used to be around 8 minutes, but nowadays have dropped to just 8 seconds.

Women often complain that men don’t listen and in their book ‘Why Men don’t listen and women can’t read maps’ Allan and Barbara Pease blame this on the differences in our brains.  However, it’s now common for both sexes to be distracted when someone is speaking, being engaged in a number of other activities simultaneously such as checking emails, texts or the internet.  In addition many people are also doing a whole array of additional things when someone is talking to them:

  • Thinking about other things, such as what they would like for dinner
  • Wishing the other person would be more succinct and get to the point
  • Interrupting
  • Mind-reading
  • Judging people on appearance and reaching incorrect conclusions, often under 4 seconds
  • Picking out parts of the conversation which they think are the most relevant
  • Switching off completely when they think the subject has become boring
  • Letting their enthusiasm take over and interrupting to talk about their experiences or their side of the story
  • Allowing their emotions to affect opinions and responses

Active Listening is actually a learnt skill, which takes time and effort but results in a shared understanding, common ground, assists in avoiding conflict situations and creates more effective working relationships.  You can practise listening actively by implementing the following 10 actions:

  1. ensure there is the right environment for a conversation or meeting, by switching off as many electronic appliances as feasible
  2. Maintain eye contact with the person
  3. Nod your head when you are in agreement
  4. Take hand written notes
  5. Make appropriate comments to demonstrate understanding
  6. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand their point of view
  7. Summarise what you’re hearing and your interpretation of the message
  8. Listen out for key words, values, needs, hopes, goals and concerns
  9. Evaluate what it is you are hearing, only then react to what you have heard
  10. Then respond with an Open Question to check understanding and find out more information

Successful Coaches, Leaders and Managers tend to have high Emotional Intelligence and excellent Active Listening skills.  When you really listen intently it is surprising what you actually hear and understand.  The old saying often quoted to sales people is ‘You have two ears but only one mouth’.

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