All too often we are far more enthusiastic about talking than we are listening. Yet it is so vital if we are to communicate effectively. Most breakdowns in relationships are caused because people talk at each other without really making contact. Unless someone hears what has been said, including the subtext, the words have little value.
When we are actively listening, or speaking and knowing the other person is actively listening, we feel valued and are far more likely to engage in negotiation and compromise.
Listening is about far more than words. Watching facial expression and body language is often a far more accurate barometer than the words that are being used. Nice things being said where the smile doesn’t reach the eyes is an obvious example. To be an effective listener it is vital that you listen actively.
Here are 10 tips to becoming a more effective listener:
- Make eye contact – read the body language of the talker. Are they relaxed, anxious, angry?
- Extremes are easy to recognize but often the message is much more subtle
- Mirror the talker’s body language – subtly, a gentle dance rather than a caricature.
- Show that you are listening, nod, make appropriate responses
- Ask relevant questions, ask them to clarify if you are not clear about their meaning
- Summarize: So what you are saying is……….
- Use open ended questions, the who, what, where, when, etc.
- Be careful of the tone of your voice when you respond or ask questions. It is all to easy to come across as judgemental or as an interrogator from the Spanish inquisition
- Use empathy. Acknowledge difficulties, but be careful not to fall into the trap of going into anecdotes from your experience. “I sense that you are finding this rather difficult,” rather than “Oh I know, it happened to me but mine was bigger, more difficult, etc.”
- Take a real interest, if you are simply going through the motions the lack of sincerity will be obvious to others. Leave your ego behind, concentrate on the other person.