Listening is essential to successful communication at all levels and is one of the most important and useful skills we can have, for both personal and professional success. And although we use it in all contexts, to obtain information, to understand, or to learn, we spend our school years learning to read, write and speak, but almost no time learning how to really listen.
Studies suggest that we only remember between 25-50% of what we hear, as portrayed by Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience. That is because listening is not something that just happens naturally (as hearing), but an active process in which a decision is made consciously to listen and understand the messages of the speaker.
By becoming a better listener, you can improve your productivity and ability to influence, convince and negotiate. Furthermore, you’ll avoid conflicts due to misunderstandings. The way to improve in this respect is to practice “active listening”, namely paying full attention to the interlocutor and trying to understand the complete message being communicated. Active listening is a skill that can be acquired and developed with rehearsal.
There are several techniques you can use to become a more effective listener:
Be present. Don’t get distracted by what is going on around you, your own line of thoughts or by thinking of counter arguments while the other person is still speaking. Look at the speaker directly and give him/her your undivided attention.
Show your interest by using both verbal and non-verbal messages, such as nodding occasionally, smiling, saying ‘yes’ or simply ‘mhm / uh huh’ to encourage the speaker to continue. Among other non-verbal signs of listening can also be mentioned: leaning slightly forward or even mirroring the speaker’s posture or expressions. By receiving this response, the person speaking usually feels more comfortable and therefore communicates more openly and honestly.
Reflect on what is being said, ask questions and provide feedback. Summarise the speaker’s comments by using the main points of their message and rephrasing them in your own words, thus giving the speaker chance to correct you if necessary.
Try using the following expressions to ensure the communicator that you understood what he/she is saying:
- Sounds like you are saying…
- Let me see if I understand…
- So, you see it as…
- What I think I am hearing is…
- What I think you mean is…
If he/she agrees, you will know that you’re on the same page. If not, go deeper to comprehend his/her view.
Pay attention to more than what is being said or not said. Try to read through the nuances, the meaning behind the words, the person’s mimic, body language and overall energy, as well as how the messages are expressed. See how the interlocutor reacts, how convincing he/she is, what’s his/her argumentation, as well as his/her enthusiasm and interest for certain topics.
Don’t interrupt and allow the speaker to finish expressing his/her ideas. You should avoid jumping in with questions or comments every time there are a few seconds of silence. Active listening involves giving the other person time to explore and convey their thoughts, feelings and ideas.
Be open to the other’s perspective, encourage respect and understanding in the communication.