Posts Tagged ‘Active listening’

Ten Keys to Successful Listening

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Active listening means more than just letting someone talk. It is doing everything you can to hear what that person is saying and, just as importantly, encouraging the other party to communicate. Here are ten key skills of a successful listener.

  1. Open your mind. Close off all the judgmental thoughts and emotions that get in the way of your hearing what the other person has to say. Don’t be turned off by the speaker’s style, accent or appearance. Focus on what she is saying.
  2. Pay attention. Don’t let your mind wander. Set aside whatever is preoccupying you at the time. Give your full attention to the speaker, not to other things going on in the room.
  3. Don’t try to mind read. The only mind you can read is your own. When you think you’re anticipating another’s words, you’re actually just blurring the picture with your own thoughts–and missing their point.
  4. Hear the speaker out before planning your reply. You can’t hear when you are busy formulating responses. As you plan that snappy retort you are missing important points or nuances. You don’t have to worry that you’ll lose out if you don’t have an instant reply; speakers much prefer the feeling that you have both heard and thought about what they have said before you respond.
  5. Stay calm. While this may be difficult if the other party appears angry or accusatory, it is especially important then. If he is using aggression as a tactic to shake you, he will fail. Your calm response gives him nothing to react against. If she is truly upset, listening calmly not only will reduce tension, but may give you new insights into the problem. And if he is stonewalling, listening hard to what he’s saying gives you a platform for asking probing questions.
  6. Don’t interrupt—especially when crossing language barriers, even when the speaker seems temporarily lost for words. This is especially true when the topic is complex or emotionally difficult. Interrupting is distracting, annoying and frustrating. Moreover, you’ll miss out on some important information that may have come your way.
  7. Show you’re listening. Not interrupting doesn’t mean staring at the speaker with a blank face. Appearing disengaged can be even more conversation-killing than interrupting. A conversation must involve at least two parties. Even though only one person is speaking at a time, active listeners respond with visual (e.g. head-nodding) and aural cues (e.g. “uh-huh”).  If the topic is serious, taking notes shows a high level of interest and a desire to follow up.
  8. Ask questions. Asking questions is vital to ensuring that you fully understand the speaker’s meaning. Questions show you’re interested, stimulate conversation, and encourage openness. However, questions should be friendly and sincere, aimed at clarification or eliciting more information, not poorly disguised interrogations (e.g. “Isn’t it true that…”), which will only shut the speaker down or spark an argument.
  9. Watch your body language. Looking around the room while another is talking gives the instant impression that the speaker is boring you. Also avoid making dismissive or irritated facial gestures, such as rolling your eyes, tightening your jaw or sighing–unless your goal is to infuriate the speaker.

10.  Reply to what was said. Don’t just head off onto what’s on your own mind. Finish one topic before moving onto the next. Otherwise the speaker feels dismissed and is more likely to dismiss you.

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