Listen. What do you hear right now? For many people what can be heard right now. Over all of the noise in the background. Over the person who may be speaking to you. Right now you can hear your own voice. Thats what you are listening to. The voice inside your head that is formulating the planned response to what should be listened to. How often does that voice disrupt communication?

There are two reasons why people are not good at listening

  • The majority of the time we stop listening when we have heard something that we want to respond to. Your mind can drift away thinking of the response. You formulate and re-formulate the response and pay no attention to the rest of what is said.
  • We need to answer fast. Culturally we have adapted to fast communication styles and we already know the answer anyway, right? Even before the question has been asked. So we need to answer fast, the expectation on the conversation is that I answer fast and move on. Rather than a a moment when the person has finished speaking to formulate my answer and then come back.

Active Listening

The art of being a good listener has been lost to all but a few. And you know who you are, you are the ones wondering why you don’t have time to think and respond, why everyone else is moving at 100 miles an hour waiting for your response.

Listening skills start with paying attention to the person, or persons, you are in conversation with and not paying attention to the voice in your head. The one that is starting to decide on a response. Paying attention to the voice means that you’ve already formulated the response and are just waiting for a point in time when you can interject with your answer. Normally a time when the other person has taken a breath or stopped speaking for just a moment. The speaker may have even noticed your lack of interest in the continued conversation and stopped talking.

I have always prided myself on being a good listener, as a trainer and coach it is a number one skill to have. I pay attention not only to what is being said but what is not being said. Body language and interpretation is a great part of being an active listener. I developed my skills from working in large corporate environments dealing with a varied team, other managers at all levels and customers.

To be good trainer and coach, to be a great manager, to be an excellent communicator you have to have good listening skills. Including verbal and non verbal listening, and also have a great levels of empathy.

Active listening has been known under various different titles over the years, sometimes Reflective Listening and often Empathic listening. It is the way of listening and responding to other people in a way that improves communication and trust. It enables the listener to take on board the message and accurately interpret with what the speaker is saying. Then be able to provide adequate responses. The response becoming the important part of the process. Because it is the response that shows if you have listened, and to what. If you have responded in the way you where thinking of responding then you are not actively listening.

If would like to develop the skills of being a good listener to bring benefits in your day to day personal and work life here are a few simple tips:

  1. Eye contact. This shows that you are paying attention. Generally when you are looking away shows that you are thinking, if you are thinking you are listening to yourself. Not the speaker. If you don’t look at the person while they’re speaking, you give them the impression that you don’t care about what they say. Also it helps you to focus on their words and hear them.
  2. Don’t interrupt. We have all been there, something great has been said and you want to add your part and you talk over the speaker. Tempting as it is to interrupt as a thought is fresh in your mind don’t and let the speaker finish what they want to say. It’s their moment.
  3. Non verbal Acknowledgement. A simple nod of your head demonstrates that you are taking on board that is being said.
  4. No Mind Reading. You may think quicker than they do, but no finishing sentences – it’s not only very rude but also a massive assumption that your mind is heading the same way.
  5. Listen without thinking. Stop talking to yourself while in conversation. It’s really hard to do as you may have got really good at the multi tasking of conversation and can move things along faster with your answers. Our brains can think about four times quicker than we can speak, try not to race ahead and let them speak.
  6. Use their words. Test yourself on using their word when you answer. If you use their words not only have you listened to pay attention to them but you also build rapport by matching their words.

So next time you are in conversation and the voice in your head is looking for the opportunity to speak. Tell it to be quite and listen more to the person that is speaking. Who knows where it all get you…