23rd Nov 2011

Five Ways to Become a Better Active Listener

An old aphorism is “Listen, else your tongue will make you deaf.”

That describes perfectly the need for active listening, which the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) defines as “a person’s willingness and ability to hear and understand someone else.”

Hearing is only half of that equation: understanding is the other half (and the more important when it comes to open communication). Think about how you’ve felt when someone is intently listening to what you have to say. Active listeners are engaging and convincing, because they show empathy for and interest in people.

These five techniques will help you to be an active listener.

  1. Reflect upon feedback. Michael Hoppe in Active Listening: Improve Your Ability to Listen and Lead advises an honest self assessment. Has anyone ever asked you “Are you listening to me?” Or told you, ”You’ve already made up your mind,” or “You don’t let me get a word in edgewise”? These tell you where your listening habits need work.
  2. Surrender the need to agree (or win). Agreement is usually unnecessary. A CEO need not agree with a consultant: he or she can use a conversation to recognize a poor fit. Also, it is rare that either party “wins” when a conversation becomes a debate. (Would you switch political parties based on a five-minute conversation?) Instead, trade ideas, so that you and the speaker walk away with something to ponder.
  3. Question, do not judge. Statements like “I disagree completely,” or “That won’t work because…” tell speakers they’ve hit a wall. Instead, use questions that explore the topic. Hoppe describes three types: open ended questions, such as: “If that’s the case, what happens if …”; clarifying questions, such as: “I didn’t understand the connection, please tell me…”; and probing questions, such as: “What’s an example of when that happened?”
  4. Listen, then think. If you formulate a response while a speaker is talking, you cannot listen because your brain is otherwise occupied. You will have your chance to respond, but focus on gathering information and understanding it before you frame your response.
  5. Turn off your “people filter.” Many of us unconsciously evaluate others by their worth or interest to ourselves. Perhaps a listener engages only with those who want to talk about a given topic; who are superior in position; or are physically attractive. This filtering will limit what you can learn. Seek out individuals you don’t normally engage.

Like any skill, active listening feels forced and mechanical at first (like a golf swing or playing piano), but becomes natural with practice. In time, you will find that others seek you out in conversation. As self-help guru Dr. Phil once noted, “Charisma isn’t about saying ‘Here I am!’ It’s about saying ‘Here you are.’”

Copyright © 2011 MindEdge

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