With the proliferation of communication through email, text-messaging and social media, it really isn’t surprising that the active listening skills of the average person have become a bit rusty.
In our efforts to increase efficiency through multitasking, it is rare to give a conversation undivided attention. The results, however, sometimes prove to be less than desirable, as careful listening is integral to effective communication. Without properly hearing people, we miss important details, misunderstand messages and may even damage relationships (both professionally and personally).
These techniques can help you improve your listening skills:
— Mitigate distractions: Put down your smartphone. Turn away from your computer. Turn away from the paperwork on your desk. And make actual eye contact with the person who is talking to you. This is not to say that you should stare intently at the other person in a way that makes him or her uncomfortable, but rather that you give him or her the courtesy of your undivided, focused attention.
— Practice empathy: Try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. If the speaker is excited, or sad, or upset, allow yourself to imagine that feeling to aid your understanding. This can be especially difficult if you do not naturally feel the same way in a similar situation. You do not, however, need to agree with the emotion expressed. Simply acknowledging and validating the emotions of others can go a long way toward facilitating understanding.
— Don’t interrupt: This includes anticipating what is going to be said and finishing the other person’s sentences. We all think and speak at different speeds. If you are a fast thinker and speaker, you will need to be patient and relax your pace for people who are more deliberate communicators or for those who have trouble expressing themselves. Rushing the speaker is not only rude, but it can also cause him or her to forget an important train of thought.
— Ask questions, but only to clarify: When you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. Rather than interrupt, however, wait until the speaker pauses. Also, make sure your questions do not steer the conversation completely off track. For example, if a colleague is telling you about the awful experience she had with an employee in sales, you would not want to ask her for details that are unrelated (“Does Karl still drive that red minivan?”).
— Give feedback. This can be as simple as nodding to show your understanding or murmuring your agreement with an occasional “uh-huh.” You may also want to paraphrase the content for clarity, “OK, so what you are saying is …” The point is to offer the speaker proof that you are paying attention.
Kyra Kudick is an associate editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., a nationally recognized compliance resource company with more than 200 clients in the Las Vegas Valley. Kudick specializes in employment law/human resources issues. She is the author of J. J. Keller’s Employee Relations Essentials manual and SUPER adVISOR newsletter. For more information, visit www.jjkeller.com/hr and www.prospera.com.