Monday, September 06, 2010

5 tips to be an active listener

During our N-of-8® workshops, our goal is to learn and understand as much as we can about our customer's current situation, ideas, challenges, and goals.  During these sessions, the Stinson Brand Innovation team practices "active listening," and we make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that the participants are saying, but also more important, to understand the total message being sent.  Active listening is a great tool that can be used in any situation - meetings, on the telephone, and even with friends and family.

Why is it important to become a good listener?  The web site outlines these key reasons:
  • We listen to obtain information.
  • We listen to understand.
  • We listen for enjoyment.
  • We listen to learn.
Unfortunately, most of us only remember somewhere between 25-50% of what we hear, which means when we're receiving directions or being presented with information, we probably aren't hearing the whole message.  So, boosting our listening skills is important.  By becoming better listeners, we can avoid conflict and misunderstandings and improve our productivity, as well as our ability to influence, persuade and negotiate.

There are 5 key elements of active listening. They help ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they are saying.

1.      Pay Attention.
Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge what they're saying. Recognize that what is not said also speaks loudly.
  • Look at the speaker directly.
  • Shelve distracting thoughts. Don't mentally prepare a rebuttal.
  • Avoid being distracted by other things happening around you.
  • "Listen" to the speaker's facial expressions and body language.
  • Refrain from side conversations (when listening in a group setting).
2.      Show that You're Listening. 
Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
  • Put away electronic devices. They can often be used as a distraction and a way to tune out.  Using them is disrespectful to the speaker.
  • Nod occasionally, and smile and use other facial expressions.
  • Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.  Crossed arms or "lazy" posture indicates that you're not engaged.
  • Encourage the speaker to continue.  Use small verbal cues, such as "yes," and "uh huh."
3.      Provide Feedback.
Our personal beliefs, assumptions and judgments can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said.
  • Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. "What I‚m hearing is," and "Sounds like you are saying" are great ways to reflect back.
  • Ask questions to clarify certain points. "What do you mean when you say," and "Is this what you mean?"
  • Summarize the speaker's comments periodically.
4.      Defer Judgment.
Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
  • Allow the speaker to finish.
  • Don't interrupt with counter-arguments.
5.      Respond Appropriately.
Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.
  • Be candid, open, and honest in your response.
  • Assert your opinions respectfully.
  • Treat the other person as he or she would want to be treated.
How can active listening help you in your professional or personal life?  Share your comments.

Click here to learn more about active listening.

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