Key Learning Outcomes
- Distinguish between listening and hearing.
- Recognise that skilled listening is a desirable trait in business leaders and managers.
- Identify the benefits of effective listening for both your business and your personal life.
- Practise our tips for becoming an effective and active listener.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. This quote by world-renowned business author Steven Covey is an important one to remember in business. Skilled listening is a highly sought-after trait in business leaders and managers. Do not make the mistake of thinking that simply hearing is listening. Hearing happens without you thinking about it, but really listening takes effort. Listening is a skill and is essential for effective communication.
Research suggests that most people only take in between 25% and 50% of what is said to them. In fact most people listen at a rate of around 500 words per minute but speak at least 50% more slowly. This means that the listener’s mind can wander half of the time unless there is a concentrated effort to listen carefully.
Being a good listener can have many benefits both in business and in your personal life. When we listen carefully, we are more likely to understand and retain the information. This leads to better decision-making and enhanced work and personal relationships.[wlm_ismember]
Think back, for example, to the last time you flew on an aircraft. How intently did you listen to the safety briefing? Did you listen to every word and then refer to the safety card as instructed? Probably not. It’s more likely your mind and thoughts drifted to other things or you started reading the inflight magazine. Now imagine that you were told there was an 80% likelihood of crashing today. Do you think you would listen differently? It’s very likely you would listen to every word and ask questions if you had any doubt about your understanding of the situation.
To become a great listener, you need to work on building your active listening skills. As the name suggests, when you are engaged in active listening you are practising the skill of listening rather than just hearing. Active listening means taking in more than just the words that you hear; it also means taking into consideration the tone the speaker is using and observing the non-verbal communication. Active listening is two way, so part of the process is showing the speaker you are listening through your own verbal and non-verbal communication. An effective active listener:
- Stops talking. While you are talking you cannot be listening.
- Gives non-verbal signs that they are listening:
- Eye contact indicates to the speaker that you are paying attention. It also allows you to pick up on non-verbal signs from facial expressions.
- Body language, such as an occasional head nod, will indicate to the speaker that you are paying attention and you understand what they are saying.
- A good listener will use their posture to show they are listening, often leaning forward or tilting their head to one side. They never sit leaning back with their arms crossed.
- Smiling may not always be appropriate, but a smile offers encouragement to the speaker to continue on.
- A good listener avoids actions and gestures that suggest boredom, such as looking at your watch, doodling, fidgeting or completing another task such as checking your phone for messages.
- Gives verbal encouragement such as short one- or two-word interjections that can give encouragement to the speaker or an indication of understanding. Be mindful that they should be used sparingly so that they are not an interruption.
- Takes notes. Research shows it is extremely difficult to remember everything that is said. Taking notes can show interest and will also serve as reminders of the content. Always remember to ask permission, keep the notes brief and don’t engage in note-taking at the expense of vital active listening skills such as making eye contact.
- Asks relevant questions, giving the speaker a clear indication that they have been listening.
- Paraphrases and repeats content back to the speaker, showing they are listening to understand.
- Avoids interrupting. When you interrupt a speaker it gives the impression that you are no longer listening to what they are saying and that you have heard enough.
- Thinks before speaking. A good listener will pause before shifting from the role of listener to speaker.
- Is not thinking about the response. When you do this you are listening with the intention of replying rather than with the intention to understand.
Active listening is a skill that takes time and effort to master. Practise your active listening skills as often as you can. Next time you are out with friends, be a listener rather than a speaker and see what happens. Next time you ask your partner or child how their day is, really listen to the response by giving them your undivided attention.
Don’t be afraid to let someone know if you are not able to fully listen to them. If someone asks “do you have a minute to discuss something?”, only agree to if you can give them your undivided attention. Unless it is an urgent situation, it is better to make a time when you can give the person your full attention.
Active listening will help you and your team when dealing with customers on a day-to-day basis. People like to deal with people that listen to them. How often do we hear a client say that they chose a particular business or person “because they understood me”? Listening intently to your customers will allow you to understand and respond to their needs, which is a huge step in building a successful business.[/wlm_ismember]
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