The power of listening

The power of listening

On Monday I talked about why agencies need to be better listeners. It seemed to spark some interest in readers and I found myself critiquing my own listening skills all week. Guess what? I think I’m pretty poor at it too and it’s something I’m going to work on – I still interrupt people too much. (Especially after a bunch of coffee. )

We get so much inbound information from social media, email, regular media, etc that I think we’ve lost some of our ability to listen. (According to audiologists, we’ve also lost a lot of our hearing from MP3 players and concerts too) I found this great outline of “how to listen” from a rather obscure but well written blog by Michael Hanson. Michael, if you’re reading this thanks! 

Listening – by Michael Hanson

Listening is a critical part of communication, yet it is often neglected.  Do you sometimes find yourself forming a response before the speaker has finished?  If so, you are not alone.  Listening is not as skill in which most of us have been trained.  Good listening can be improved with practice.  How do we improve our listening skills?  The old saying goes; “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is excellent advice for listeners because it places the focus of attention where it belongs – on the speaker.  When we listen, we must put aside our personal opinions about what the person is saying and listen to the words.  Too often, we assume we know what the speaker has to say and we start arguing before hearing the entire message.  This is true especially if we expect the speaker to disagree with some of our ideas.

As you practice listening, you become aware how difficult prolonged listening can be.  Most of us are so use to TV or radio noise that we can “tune out” quite easily.  While most of this background noise is worth tuning out, it is not a good idea to tune out a face-to-face conversation.  We do, however, because the mind can process more words per minute than most people can speak.  This gives us time to form responses or even let our minds wander a bit.  Many of us have this experience during meetings, lectures and even chats with family members.  Her are some practical rules for listening effectively:

  • Focus on the speaker. Make eye contact so nothing distracts your attention.  Do not continue any other activities while the speaker is talking.  Such distractions imply that you do not consider the message or the speaker very important.
  • Hear the entire message before you begin to form your response
  • Rephrase what you think the speaker said and ask if your understanding is correct. If the speaker says no, ask him or her to repeat what was said.  Continue until the speaker says you have understood correctly what was meant.
  • Observe the nonverbal signals that will give you more information.  Notice how the person is standing or sitting.  Listen to the tone of voice. Determine if the speaker is relaxed, tense, excited, sad, frustrated.  You can listen to their “body” language.

Practice good listening with everyone and you will be amazed at how much this will improve your personal and working relationships.