The way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening”. This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.
Skill #1: You must pay attention to the other person.
You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.
If you’re finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them – this will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.
To enhance your listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you are listening to what he or she is saying. As an example, ask yourself if you’ve ever been part of a conversation when you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying. You may wonder if your message is getting across, or if it’s even worthwhile continuing to speak. Speaking to someone who appears disinterested can feel like talking to a wall and it’s something you want to avoid in listening to others. In simpler terms: Be polite!
Acknowledgement can be something as simple as a nod of the head or a saying “uh huh.” You aren’t necessarily agreeing with the person, you are simply indicating that you are listening. I have learned to use the term “OK” to indicate that I hear the person. Using body language and other signs to acknowledge you are listening also reminds you to pay attention and not let your mind wander.
You should also try to respond to the speaker in a way that will encourage him or her to continue speaking, so that you can get the information you need. While nodding and saying “uh huh” indicates that you’re interested, an occasional question or comment to recap what has been said communicates that you are understanding the message as well.
I’ll have more on active listening in tomorrow’s post.
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