Approximately 50% of business hours are spent listening. Listening efficiency rates are a dismal 20-25%. Most of us are poor listeners. We hear, but we don't listen.
When engaged in active listening, our heart rate increases, blood circulates faster, and temperature rises. Here are some suggestions to improve our listening skills excerpted from K. W. Huskey Associates training sessions.
"A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while, he knows something."
- Mark Twain
Timing Is this a good time? Can you give the sender your undivided attention? Should you schedule a better time? Is your mind preoccupied or free to attend to the sender? Should you seize the opportunity to invest in the sender?
Distractions-Setting Is the environment conducive to listening? Can you relocate? Will closing the door help or hinder? Where should you sit? Identify and address physical barriers.
Distractions-Sender Does the sender have a distracting appearance, voice, fragrance (odor), mannerism, etc.? Concentrate. Focus on content. Do not judge the book by its cover. Attend to the sender. Be sensitive to cultural differences.
Define Your Purpose For Listening Why is it important to listen to this message? Why do I need the message? Why do I care? Establish your need. Knowing why you are listening helps you focus your listening energy.
Eye Contact The eyes are the focal point of communication. Look alert. Be alert. Pay attention. Read the sender's body language. Avoid glances at your watch, out the window, at people passing by, etc. When on the phone try not to look at things that will take away from your ability to concentrate.
Body Language Attend to the sender. Alert body posture, including a slight leaning-in posture, suggests that you are paying attention and helps you to stay tuned in. Provide feedback such as facial expressions and head nodding to demonstrate interest and comprehension. Avoid distracting gestures.
Verbal Feedback Augment body language with verbal feedback such as "uh huh," "mm-hmmm," "I see," "o.k.," "alright," and "yes." You don't have to agree, just demonstrate interest and understanding. Let the sender know that they are speaking to someone with a pulse.
Bombshells Don't get sidetracked by unusual words, explosive language or emotional bombs. Some words cause an immediate barrier to listening. Buzz words, labels, jargon, clichιs, profanity, sexist and racist language tend to trigger our emotions. Identify your emotional triggers. Don't let your perception put a halt to your active listening. Put it on the back burner. Don't be a blemish player. What words send your mind reeling?
Paraphrase Demonstrate understanding. Paraphrase the sender's message to demonstrate understanding, confirm your interpretation, and to buy time to think. If you can't accurately paraphrase the sender's concern, how do you know you understand it? Filter out extraneous, irrelevant, biased, and emotional input. Does the sender agree with your interpretation of his/her message?
Clarify Probe for more information. Invite sender elaboration or clarification.
"Can you be more specific?"
"Can you give an example?"
"What do you mean by ?"
"Why do you say that ?"
"I'm sorry. I must have misunderstood what you said "
Be Patient Let the sender "vent." Be an emotional sponge. Listening is a cheap concession. Interrupting is a last resort. Keep your ego in check.
Word Selection The sender has a unique command of the language so do you. Do not put words in the sender's mouth. Do not finish his/her sentences. Paraphrase and clarify to ensure understanding. Don't argue semantics focus on the message.
Respond to Strong Feelings Respond to the sender's strong feelings. Acknowledge that the message has been received. If you ignore strong feelings, the speaker may fail to listen to your response.
"That's really frustrating "
"I understand why you're so concerned "
"I know how you feel "
Take Notes Sometimes Capture key information on paper. Demonstrate interest and involvement. Don't make the sender compete with your writing you can always "debrief" afterwards. Can note taking ever be intimidating?
You're Drifting!! Come back! Come back! You're losing interest. Boredom is creeping in. It's time for a midcourse correction. Remind yourself why it's important to listen. Call a recess. Provide a summary. Request a summary. Resist that persistent daydream. Put the personal problem on hold. Concentrate.
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