The art of listening
Listening is a skill, a conscious activity and, it seems, a slowly dwindling art form. If you find yourself tuning out when other people speak, it’s time to relearn the art of listening.
I was having a conversation recently with a colleague and although he appeared to be listening, I could tell my words weren’t sinking in. On the surface he was doing all ‘the right things’ a listener should – he was facing me with an open and even posture, he was nodding his head and saying ‘hmms’ and ‘ahhhs’ and ‘oh I sees’ – but my message went in one ear and out the other. It really miffed me. I felt as though what I was saying was invalid, unimportant and small.
How many times have you caught someone, or even yourself, giving the impression they are listening when they really aren’t at all?
Listening involves much more than making subtle body movements and sounds.
"One way to be a better listener is to paraphrase the speaker’s words back to them during a conversation. "
It’s about being able to enter the other person’s world for a moment while remaining objective – what is defined as true empathy.
It’s about making the other person feel heard by clarifying, acknowledging and allowing an avenue for feedback. It’s about encouraging the speaker to share more information, inviting a feeling of validity and relief.
It’s not simply about looking like you’re listening while actively ticking off your to-do list in your head.
So how can we improve our listening skills?
Want more articles like this? Check out the communication skills section.
One way to be a better listener is to paraphrase the speaker’s words back to them during a conversation. This not only makes the person feel as though they are being heard, but also forces you to think about what they’re saying. You could say something as simple as, “So, what I am hearing is [insert summary], is that right?” or “Let me see if I’ve got this right for you, [insert paraphrase here], is that right?”
This may sound contrived to start with, but with practice and dedication, it will become second nature. Asking ‘is that right?’ is important as it allows the speaker to clarify, adjust or correct your thinking – and it shows that you care.
The benefits of active listening for the speaker are many. Feeling that we are being heard creates a sense of calm, safety and security. We open up more, share more and relax more. And with that comes greater creativity and trust. (I could talk about the science behind this, but I think that’s another article!)
Being an active listener is essential not only for day-to-day relationships but also in business, helping to:
- Build rapport rapidly and easily and therefore, build new business relationships
- Strengthen existing relationships through trust
- Increase awareness of others and their perspectives, offering greater insights into their way of thinking and their ideas (and you never know, we may even like their ideas better!)
- Increase the information exchange – and who knows where that could lead!
So, next time you catch yourself thinking about the pile of papers that need addressing on your desk while someone is addressing you, firstly, pinch yourself and then concentrate on active listening skills using the suggestions above.
Do you have any tips for being a more active listener?