The Art of Listening


Communication Skills: Listening

Listening is a very under rated skill. Early in life we were taught to Listen and learn at school but still many of us in our fast paced life have not mastered this concept. Listening is essential if we are to demonstrate good communication skills. Listening is a vital component of communication: what is the message that our opposite person is trying to communicate.

In order to listen effectively we are obliged to concentrate on what the other person has to say. This is extremely difficult because we are also taught that we should have the right to express our own opinions and are often so focussed on our message that we totally miss the other persons point. We should also disconnect as much as possible our natural filters that inhibit our ability to listen and understand.

What are the causes of poor listening?

1.    Over talkative

A person who feels the need to talk will always be concentrating on what they need to say next and miss potentially valuable information.

2.    Self Interest/Interruptions

Many people simply are waiting for key words that trigger their response. There is something of interest here. Now is my chance to say my piece. At this point all listening has evaporated essentially ignoring the other persons content.

3.    Intolerance

Someone does not share the same values as you and therefore you switch off. Or worse you try and explain/impose your values on them. However it is vital that you tune into how these values have come to pass. Seek clarification with an open mind. Only then can you make a considered judgement. Avoid intolerance of others views.

4.    Prejudgement

Human beings generally prejudge most situations and people. This can be a disaster where listening is involved. Once you have prejudged a situation you put up barriers and filters to stop any information reaching you that you have already discounted. Worse still your prejudgement may actually be unwarranted and you have therefore missed an opportunity to build a rapport and empathy with the other party and learn something new.

5.    Disruptions/Noise

Meetings are often disrupted by noise, other conversations, and phones ringing. Climate (light, temperature, ergonomics) can also divert attention away from listening. Try to minimise disruptions to meetings so active listening can take place.

6.    Personal problems/stress

External distractions from personal life (fears, uncertainty, anxiety, financial problems etc) can disrupt your attention. In this situation you will need to double your concentration levels to ensure that the little voice inside us all does not compete for the voice that we should be listening to.

7.    Deficiencies in speech and expression

In some cases it is difficult to listen attentively when the other party is not expressing themselves clearly. They are using words or terminology that you are unfamiliar with. They do not speak in a clear or logical manner. Seek clarification. This alone will reinforce that you are listening and demonstrate your desire to understand the other party’s point of view

Paraphrasing takes place when someone repeats something written or spoken using different words, or in a simpler and shorter form that makes the original meaning clearer. A great way to demonstrate to the other party that you are listening effectively is to paraphrase what you have just heard.

So if I have understood you correctly you would like……………

Taking your comments into account you want me/us to…………….

Looking at it from your point of view you see it like………………….

Is that right?

Paraphrasing what the other party has said shows that you have listened and understood to the point that you can articulate this back to the other person. It also has the added advantage of being able to check your level of understanding and therefore minimising any potential misunderstandings later in the discussion.

Avoid misunderstandings by asking for repetition

If you are uncertain about something that has just been said it is perfectly acceptable to seek clarification by asking for a repetition.

Can you just run that by me again? I did not quite follow/understand it the first time.

Would it be possible for you to repeat that last segment so I can fully understand your point?

Always remember that communication is a two way process. Without listening there is no communication. Attempt to remove all your barriers and filters so that when you are listening you are getting the raw data for you to process.

Try to forget what it is that you came to say and spend more time listening. If what you have to say is important your brain will remind you at some stage in the dialogue and your chance to speak will come.

Remember to paraphrase to show interest in what the other person has to say. This should build trust and empathy and demonstrate that you have good listening and communication skills.

In a selling situation a good way of building rapport is to actively listen to what the other party has to say. Only when you have fully understood what the other party is saying can you look to build an offer that will match their communicated needs.