Listening is hard work. When other people are listening to us, they have the same difficulties we do in trying to focus on a message. Our minds wander, noises or thoughts distract us, and we can be thinking about what to do next.
Active listening means that we try to understand things from the speaker’s point of view. It includes letting the speaker know that we are listening and that we have understood what was said. This is not the same as hearing, which is a physical process, where sound enters the eardrum and messages are passed to the brain. Active listening can be described as an attitude that leads to listening for shared understanding.
When we make a decision to listen for total meaning, we listen for the content of what is being said as well as the attitude behind what is being said. Is the speaker happy, angry, excited, sad…or something else entirely?
Responding to Feelings
The content (the words spoken) is one thing, but the way that people feel really gives full value to the message. Responding to the speaker’s feelings adds an extra dimension to listening. Are they disgusted and angry or in love and excited? Perhaps they are ambivalent! These are all feelings that you can reply to in your part of the conversation.
Really listening means that we are also very conscious of the non-verbal aspects of the conversation.
When you are listening to someone, these techniques will show a speaker that you are paying attention, provided you are genuine in using them.
Physical indicators include making eye contact, nodding your head from time to time, and leaning into the conversation.
You can also give verbal cues or use phrases such as “Uh-huh,” “Go on,” “Really!” and, “Then what?”
You can use questions for clarification or summarizing statements. Examples:
Tips for Becoming a Better Listener
What is Said and What is Heard
What we say isn’t always what the other person hears. Our message goes through a complicated system of filters and outside influences before it reaches the recipient. We must always clarify that the person has received the message that we intended to send.
Here are some common situations that can make communication difficult. We have offered some tips for handling each situation. Try to add at least one tip of your own to each situation.
You are in a noisy workplace
Move to a quieter location, such as a meeting room with a door you can close.
There are visual distractions
Move to a less distracting environment. Turn your back to your computer screen, or have a conversation corner in your office that is away from your computer, or where a television screen won’t catch your eye.
You feel really tired
Admit that you aren’t feeling your best and are too tired to focus. Reschedule the conversation if possible.
The other person has a very strong accent
Admit that you are having trouble with hearing what they say. Respectfully ask them to slow down or help you in some other way, so that you can understand them.