Develop the Art of Active Listening
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
Listening is one of most important skills you can have on the job as it impacts your job effectiveness and the quality of your relationships with others. And although we do a lot of listening, most of us only remember about 25 to 50 percent of what we hear. That means many of us are missing vital pieces of information from our boss, colleagues or customers. The way to improve your listening skills is to practice “active listening.” This requires you to pay close attention to the other person so you hear the words and the complete message being communicated. Here are five key active listening techniques to help you become a more effective listener:
- Pay close attention – This sounds easy but with distractions both inside our own head and around us, paying attention can be very difficult. Try to block out other thoughts and direct your gaze directly at the speaker. Don’t try to mentally prepare your response, simple listen closely to their words while also observing their body language.
- Confirm that you are listening – Show that you are listening by nodding, smiling or making appropriate facial expressions. Make sure your posture is open and interested in listening and encourage the speaker to continue the discussion with verbal comments like, yes, or “go on.”
- Offer feedback – You may want to paraphrase what you hear, for example, “Sounds like you are saying…,” or “What I hear you saying is….” You may also need to clarify certain points by asking, “Is this what you mean when you said that?” If you feel yourself getting emotional to what is being said you can say so or may respond by saying, “I’m not sure I understand you correctly as I find myself taking this personally.”
- Suspend all judgment – Try to set aside your personal prejudices and just focus on understanding what is being said. Avoid interrupting the speaker as it will only frustrate them and will limit your understanding of the message. Let the speaker finish their points before you start asking questions.
- Respond appropriately – By actively listening to another, you are showing respect and understanding. Think of each conversation as a chance to gain needed information or to get a new perspective. Arguing or putting the other person down is not what a good listener or leader does. Be open and honest when you do respond and respectfully communicate your opinions. Overall, treat the person you are listening to as you would want others to treat you.