How To Be An Effective Listener
Listening is a skill many claim to have but few really master.
While a form of communication, which is best as two-way, the best leaders learn to be outstanding listeners. Mostly because of their desire to give others a voice, rather than themselves giving opinion, judgement, or gaining knowledge.
An easy way to be a more effective listener is to incorporate these few habits into most of your communication.
Keep an open mind.
Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things they tells you. Don’t say to things to yourself, that indulge in judgment, because then you’ve compromised your effectiveness as a listener.
Listen without jumping to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent the thoughts and feelings inside their brain. You don’t know what those thoughts and feelings are and the only way you’ll find out is by listening.
Picture what the speaker is saying.
Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with senses fully alert. Engaged listening starts with concentrating on what the other person is saying, and imaging what they say is a good way to create that habit.
When it’s your turn to listen, don’t spend the time planning what to say next. You can’t rehearse and listen at the same time. Think only about what the other person is saying. If your thoughts start to wander, immediately force yourself to refocus.
Don’t interrupt with your solutions.
Interrupting sends a variety of messages. It says you care more about your voice than theirs.
We all think and speak at different rates. If you are a quick thinker and an agile talker, the burden is on you to relax your pace for the slower communicator who expresses themselves differently.
When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions. Most of us don’t want your advice anyway. If we do, we’ll ask for it. Most of us prefer to figure out our own solutions. We need you to listen and help us do that. Somewhere way down the line, if you are absolutely bursting with a brilliant solution, at least get the speaker’s permission. Ask, “Would you like to hear my ideas?”
Wait for the speaker to pause before asking questions.
When you don’t understand something, of course you should ask the speaker to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the speaker pauses. Then say something like, “Could you please go over such and such a point?. I didn’t understand what you just said about that.”
Ask questions only to ensure you understand.
Your questions tell more about what your listening skills than you realize. Many people know immediately by your questions if your being dismissive, judgmental, or bored.
Questions should only be to gain deeper understanding and alignment with the thoughts of the speaker. They build trust – or tear down trust – faster than any other action during the conversation. Seek first to understand by asking the right type of question.
Acknowledge the speaker with regular feedback.
Show that you understand where the speaker is coming from by reflecting the speaker’s feelings. If the speaker’s feelings are hidden or unclear, then occasionally paraphrase the content of the message. Sometimes a sincere acknowledgement of “Yes I understand” can be valuable for the person to continue to explain and express what they are saying in more detail.
The idea is to give the speaker some proof that you are listening, and that you are valuing their voice rather than yours.
These habits won’t come easy but by practice and self-awareness through discipline. But they are a skill that any leader who is willing can easily master.