One common misconception that many of us have about communication is that it is all about the ability to convey what one wants to tell. We often forget about or ignore one of the most important elements of communication, that is, LISTENING.

Listening is not only paying attention to what is being said but how it is said, the tone, the choice of words, and the body language. Believe it or not, listening is a skill, which you may or may not possess naturally but which you can definitely learn. In fact, effective listening skills are being taught these days at schools and at work settings to help ensure better understanding and better output—in short, to make communication meaningful and fruitful.

Most of us listen to respond, rather than to understand.  Listening carefully to comprehend the point of view of the speaker is called active-listening. Apparently, it refers to listening to the feelings of the speaker. Active-listening or effective listening skills can help maintain healthy relationships, avoid miscommunication or misunderstandings, resolve conflicts, and find solutions to problems.

Here are few tips that can help you become an effective listener:

1. Undivided attention: Whenever someone comes to talk to you listen with your undivided attention. Listening requires giving your complete attention to the speaker. Listening while you’re busy doing something else shows that you are not actually listening. So when your child comes to you to talk about what happened at his or her school or when your spouse is talking about his/her day at work, put aside whatever you are doing for some time and give your full attention to the speaker. It is quite possible that you are genuinely busy at that time and cannot talk. The best thing to do, in that case, is to the person that you will listen to them as soon as you finish the work. Giving undivided attention conveys respect and genuine interest to the speaker.

2. Make eye contact: Maintaining healthy eye contact is crucial to effective communication process, listening is no exception. Effective listening requires maintaining eye contact with the speaker. This does not, however, mean that you have to stare constantly at the speaker and that’s why the term ‘healthy eye contact.’ Therefore, once in a while, take break and blink you eyes, or look between the eyes. Staring continuously can make the speaker feel intimidated, whereas, wandering eyes indicates lack of interest or boredom.

3. Attend to the feelings: Try to listen to not only what is being said, but how it is said, notice the nonverbal cues as well, such as the body language. This can help you understand what is actually being conveyed by the speaker.

4. Don’t judge, criticize, or start telling your own stories: Active-listening involves listening without judging the speaker and being open to what is being said. When someone asks you to listen, that means you need to put aside your own stories. Do not interrupt or criticize the teller. An active listener needs to keep his or her opinions to oneself. Don’t try to finish sentences of the speaker. Let the speaker take his or her time to complete what he or she wants to say.

5. Check for comprehension: In order to ensure that you understand what is being said, occasionally rephrase the key points. But do so when the speaker takes a pause. Do not interrupt the flow. Rephrasing helps the speaker rehear what is being said, and gives speaker a chance to clarify if required.

6. Encourage: In order to encourage the speaker to keep talking, use questions like, “what happened next?” or you can simply repeat the last words said. Another simple way is to just say “hmmm” to keep the conversation going.

Also read:
How to Master the Art of Constructive Feedback

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