Interpersonal Communication within the workplace is made up of two distinct parts – the first is the good stuff, the ‘speaking’; and we all love discussing how to improve our ability to get our message across. The second is the less well known and often avoided … ‘Listening’!
How many of us, during a conversation, spend the time we should be listening merely rehearsing what we want to say rather than giving our attention to the speaker – yes, you out there, put your hand up, you can’t fool me because we all do it.
However, if our aim is to communicate effectively, we should really give as much attention to our Listening Skills as we do towards our Communication Skills – and the way to do that is to understand the art of Active Listening.
Many of us confuse ‘Hearing’ with the act of ‘Listening’, but when we wake up on that spring morning we are hearing the morning chorus of bird song. But if we want to differentiate between the individuals we need to listen very carefully for the specific song; and there is a difference.
So what is Active Listening and how can we practice it?
Well here are some guidelines which might help us start out on this journey:
1. What is the purpose of the communication? In other words why are you having this conversation, and what is the preferred outcome? You won’t get far if you are unclear about the purpose.
2. Engage both mind and body – An active listener is engaged both mentally and physically. Watch the speaker’s body language and facial expressions to learn their emotional attachment to their message.
3. Use feedback to support the communication – Let the speaker know that you are actively listening to them. Use your body language, nodding the head to encourage them and good eye contact. Use questions to draw out further information, “Do you think further research would clarify the situation?’
4. Develop some empathy – Active Listening does not necessarily mean agreement. But listening carefully to another’s reasoned explanation can often make us aware of the basis of their position, and we do not need to agree to understand the other’s point of view. Further we need to be open to the speaker’s emotional engagement in the process, and feelings can often be masked by words.
5. Do not interrupt – Try not to impose your point of view while the other person is trying to communicate theirs. Keep your witty observations until it is your turn to speak; and do not verbally object until you understand the basis of the speaker’s position. It is very important to listen to the whole message before even forming an opinion.
All these simple things seem obvious to us, until we are engaged in an exchange with another person; especially if we vehemently disagree with their stance. The temptation is almost overwhelming to jump in and point out exactly where they are going wrong; but if we take the time to listen, and actively listen, then we may understand the reasons for their stand.
Understanding can change our attitude – we may still not agree with them, but our overwhelming urge to set them straight may disappear.
Using active listening techniques within the workplace helps to build strong relationships; and the more confident others are that you will listen without judgement, the more likely they are to share information.
In addition, disagreements are less likely when you engage in active listening with questions. Theoretically, the use of questions should enable us to confirm our understanding of the meaning during the act of communication.
Mostly, we are happy to launch into the speaking part of the interpersonal communication, and if we give as much attention to active listening we cannot help but improve our communication skills … and that has got to be good for business.
Michele @ Trischel