“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
~Stephen R. Covey
How many times have you been in a conversation or a meeting and listened to the first few words from the speaker, then immediately went into your own internal monologue about how you were going to respond? In the second you went from listening to thinking about a response, you lost the ability to persuade the other person to understand your side of the issue.
Getting out of this habit and trap is not easy. It is difficult to sit and hear information that is uncomfortable or that is just not what we want to hear. However, it is only by truly listening that we understand where the other person is coming from and to create the opportunity for our message to be heard.
This process, the focus on listening to the other person, is called active listening. It is not just receiving sound; it is actually thinking about what is being said, providing your undivided attention, and being able to glean importance in the message. Once you understand what is essential to the speaker, you have the ability to find common ground and to share your information and message in a way that is more likely to be received than merely providing a rebuttal or your opinion.
To get started in developing active listening, here are a few tips and techniques you can implement in every conversation from personal discussions to business meetings.
- 1. Listen to the end – interruptions not only break up the speaker’s message, but they also show that you are responding to the immediate information and not being open to hearing the entire message.
- 2. Make it a distraction-free environment – when actively listening, it is essential to be able to mentally tune out other types of distractions. If possible, turn off the phone, shut down the computer monitor and move to a quiet place. If that is not possible, make the focus of your attention the other person. This is a skill you can practice anywhere and at any time.
- Stop forming judgments – the natural tendency is to immediately start to judge the content of the message. When you are judging the other person, you are in your own mental dialogue, which means you are not focused on listening. Take a deep breath and let go of those thoughts, refocusing on learning from the message.
- Eye contact –make eye contact with the speaker. This helps you to see her or his body language and non-verbal messaging. It is also a great way to show your attention and interest in the information conveyed in the message.
- Summarizing – this needs to be done carefully and not as part of a pattern in the conversation. However, after a lot of information has been provided, asking if you are understanding correctly and providing a very short one or two sentence summary is an excellent way to keep yourself accountable.
Active listening also includes asking for more information with the use of open-ended questions. This allows the speaker to provide details, scenarios, ideas or solutions, which provides a springboard to share your message and look for areas of agreement.