6 Tips For Effective Listening

“God gave you two ears and one mouth so you could listen twice as much as you speak.”
It’s something my mum used to tell me and my siblings since before we could fully understand what it meant: now I know what it means and I’d do well to follow the same advice; wouldn’t most of us?

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Active listening is a dying art.

If there is anything social media has taught me it is the fact that people like to be heard. The same holds true for employees and customers. Sadly, the trouble is, many people including business owners are clueless when it comes to effectively listening.

According to a study carried out by the International Listening Association, more than 35 studies indicate that listening is a top skill needed for success in business and relationship.

Today’s trend and culture is plagued by attention deficit – distractions are closer than we can imagine. It is now almost impossible to be fully present in a physical conversation when you have your mobile device in hand.
Poor listening isn’t only caused by cell and mobile phone misuse. I can bet that you can think of a time when you were in conversation with someone and before you finish your sentence he or she already sharing their version of a similar story? Before you’ve had time to pass on your complete thought, the person has started responding.

Don’t crucify me yet, I’m not one to point fingers – until recently, I was Chief of Transgressors when it came to listening with half an ear! So hey, we are almost on the same team.

After dealing with people both on professional and personal basis, I’ve come to the conclusion that active listening is a skill worthy of developing, if for no other reason than it is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. I’ve even begun having conversations with my friends on the importance of listening well.

To some folks out there, I’m only stating the obvious; it’s something you already know and practice. To others, please consider this write up a gentle reminder to consider how well you listen to those you love and care about, or those with whom you come into contact through work or service.

Effective listening will open doors to new opportunities, boost returns, advance customer service, improve employee efficiency and strengthen relationships. Almost everyone can use help when it comes to developing their listening skills. Here are a few tips that can help:

Maintain eye contact Look people when you’re in a conversation

I know, I know, you already know this! But do you practice it? Talking to a person while they scan the room, study a portrait, or stare out of the window is like trying to hit a moving target. If the person were your child you might demand, “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” but that’s not the sort of thing we say to a lover, friend or colleague.

It’s a challenge to maintain direct eye contact with people, especially if you’re from this side of the globe where eye contact can be perceived to mean different things. For instance, it is perceived as rude to look directly into the eye of an elderly person when conversing with him or her. Now in this case, you’ll have to strike a balance. Now that you’ve made eye contact, relax. You don’t have to stare fixedly at the other person. You can look away now and then and carry on like a normal person

Keep an open mind.

I always advocate that we inculcate the habit of Listening without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things he or she tells you. If what the person said is alarming, then go ahead and feel alarmed, but don’t say to yourself, “Well, that was a stupid move.” As soon as you’ve indulged in any sort of judgmental bemusements, you’ve compromised your effectiveness as a listener.

Put your phone down!

This was my greatest weakness. I would be out with friends and still be fiddling with my phone. It took a ‘not so mild rebuke’ from a friend to make me stop that habit. There will always be a good excuse to keep your phone nearby like when you’re at a business meeting, you’d say something like (I make notes with my phone diary), a date with your spouse or out with friends( taking pictures and updating status), but few things better demonstrate I am ready for business or I love you and I like spending time with you than undivided attention. Even Children know when you’re listening or only half-listening.

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Don’t interrupt, hold your tongue and don’t impose solutions.

While growing, I was taught that it’s rude to interrupt. I’m not sure that message is getting across anymore. Without doubt, the opposite is being modeled on the majority of talk shows and reality programs, where loud, aggressive, in-your-face behavior is condoned, if not encouraged.

Why is this one so hard? Have you not noticed how annoying it is when someone interrupts you before you finish a sentence, and yet you find yourself doing the same thing too often? I am guilty too, but because I want to be a good listener, I’m working on this one. I want to care enough about what others have to say actually to give them enough time to say it.

Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.

When you don’t understand something, it is necessary that you ask questions so that the speaker to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the speaker pauses. Then say something like, “wait, back up a second. I didn’t understand what you meant when you said XYZ”

Give the speaker feedback.

Show that you understand where the speaker is coming from by reflecting the speaker’s feelings. “You must be excited!” “What a terrible ordeal for you.” “I can see that you are confused.” If the speaker’s feelings are hidden or unclear, then occasionally paraphrase the content of the message. Or just nod and show your understanding through appropriate facial expressions and an occasional well-timed “hmmm.”

Do you think I’m overstating the obvious? Can you see how much we have relegated active listening to the sidelines? Do you have suggestions or practices you have for becoming a better listener? Please feel free to drop them in the comment box, your suggestions will be appreciated.

About Stellamaris Obomanu

Loves to read, loves to write, loves to laugh, loves life and yeah, she's as real as they come.

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