“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.” - Stephen R Covey
We all suffer from selective listening from time to time. We stick to listening what we want to and leave out the rest. However, often the devil is in the detail, and by not listening attentively, we miss may miss out on crucial details when we need them the most. Listening isn’t only about paying attention to what’s being said in the room, but also about knowing what the speaker meant to say.
We all have the ability to think twice as fast we talk or listen. The mind has the capacity to wander even while engaged in doing something as simple as listening. Not only that, the amount of information bombarded at us, and the high premium on multitasking skills has left us with the attention span that is less than a goldfish. This inability to listen attentively can damage our interpersonal relations and act counterproductive to our career growth. However, improving our listening skills is not a difficult task, all it takes is a little awareness of our behavior and surroundings and find out ways to tune out the distractions. Here are a few tips that might help you achieve that.
Active listeners are easy to spot. They make eye contact, and their body language mirrors their attentive listening. Their eye contact isn’t an impolite stare, it’s just active. Eyes move around, just as quickly as thoughts wander, so it is okay to not stare at the speaker incessantly, but to let your gaze follow a natural path around the room with most of your concentration centered on the speaker at most times.
Pay attention to body language
An active listener’s body language is very easily spotted by the speaker. Most of our communication is nonverbal - as much as 55 percent. So pay attention to the speaker’s body language just as much as you would to yourself as the listener. For example, crossed arms demonstrate a level of discomfort in the situation. Practice picking up such cues all the time in every conversation and you can easily master them in the workplace.
Wait before you respond
Control your mind from wandering off towards finding a response before the speaker has finished. Take your time to frame a proper response before taking the podium to speak. It is critical because when your mind is actively forming a response, it shuts itself off from active listening, increasing your chances of missing out on important information coming from the speaker.
This is just as much a matter of good manners as it is indicative of your listening skills. However strong the urge to interrupt, resist it. Ask a relevant question to clarify any doubts only when the speaker takes a pause. It is important to stay on point when doing so to ensure that the speaker knows that you are actually listening to what they have to say. An easy tactic to achieve that is by paraphrasing the speaker and asking them if you understood them correctly.
Engage the speaker
Keep the speaker engaged and make it look like an active conversation rather than a monologue. Use conversation fillers like nods and “uh-hmm” at appropriate intervals. Ask them direct questions when they pause like, “how would you take care of these issues?” It won’t break the flow of the conversation, but allow you and the speaker to know that the conversation is worth the time.
These are just a few tips to get you started in case you think it is time for you to work on your listening skills. Once you have these cornered, it’ll become easier for you to figure out what you need to work on and how to turn a conversation in your favor. What you do have to keep in mind is that your thoughts will wander, you are programmed as such and you cannot help that. What you can do is to pay a little attention to certain cues to ensure that you are no longer a passive listener, but an excellent active listener ready to solve some real business and interpersonal issues that may be caused by underwhelming communication.