Listening is one of the most effective communication skills we can learn.
For it to be really effective we must learn to 'actively' listen. Normal everyday listening allows us think about what's being said, form a response, offer a solution or advice or just be waiting for them to stop talking so we can say jump in with our own opinion or perspective.
However, listening is about more than what's being said. What are the words being used? What is the tone of voice, what feelings are being expressed? What is the body language of the speaker?
Active listening is about listening to what the person is saying without jumping to any conclusion or interpreting what they're saying according to your own perceptions. When we listen to someone speak, we do so at a number of levels from the superficial 'only half listening' to the total focus of deeper listening.
Superficial - not really there, thoughts or attention are somewhere else and the interest is low. May make the right 'listening' noises, nod and murmur agreement but the person isn't really listening.
Level 1 - What does this mean to me? We hear the words but are using our own interpretation and judgement to decide what it means to me. There may be a need for more information. Someone listening at this level is likely to impose their own opinions and thoughts on the conversation.
Level 2 - Focused on the other person and not what's going on around them. At this level the listener may be leaning forward, head to one side, making eye contact, shows they are listening. They are aware of the speaker's feelings as well as the words being said. Keeps focus in order to fully understand. Is able to summarise and clarify what's been said.
Level 3 - This is a much deeper level of listening. It's about listening for what's not being said. Using your intuition to truly understand the other person and what they're feeling. The listener is totally focused on the other person and totally unaware of themselves, their thoughts or anything else.
How to improve your listening skills:
Adopt a listening posture, face the person, make eye contact and nod your head or make appropriate sounds or gestures to show you're listening.
When encouraging someone to talk - don't ask 'closed' questions that simply require a 'Yes or No' answer but ask 'open-ended' questions - how, what, when...?
If you catch yourself being distracted or drifting off in your own thoughts - be honest and apologise to the speaker - "Sorry, I was thinking about what you said earlier, could you repeat what you just said". Focus your attention back on the person in front of you.
Try listening not just with your hearing but with all your other senses. What is the person really saying? Do the words match the tone and energy of the speaker? How do they feel?
Summarise what's been said to you to show you understand.
Notice your conversations over the next few days. When are you really listening? What difference do you notice when you change the way you listen.
Copyright 2006: Clare Evans
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Clare Evans works with busy, stressed individuals and small business owners to help them plan and organise their time more effectively. Contact her now for more details and a free consultation. www.clareevans.co.uk
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