How well would you rate your listening skills on a scale of 1-10? What if I were to ask your teammates, partner or children?
We would like to think that we have such an essential skill mastered but the reality is, for m most of us, we struggle with listening well. The challenges start with the distinction between ‘hearing’ and ‘listening. Hearing is simply the taking in of sound, it is a critical part of listening but it doesn’t always follow that when we are hearing we are listening.
Listening is a complex and demanding task, it requires concentration, mental commitment and the ability to maintain and open mind to the information coming in. The brain’s ability to process sound is an amazing thing, Neuroscience has shown that while it may take you a full second to notice something out of the corner of your eye and respond, the same reaction to a new or sudden sound happens at least ten times as fast.
The simple act of listening has developed as an essential survival skill but we are often not aware of its impact in today’s modern world. Our failure to listen affects the way we learn and make effective decisions.
The good news is that listening is a skill and like any skill it can be learnt and practiced. With application of time and effort we can significantly improve the way we listen and therefore the quality of our communication.
The following are seven simple practices to improve your listening abilities:
It starts with your environment.– To listen well you need to minimise distraction. In a work environment you might move a meeting from a noisy workstation to a quiet meeting room or take a colleague for a coffee or a walk away from the day to day interruptions that could intrude.
Get focused –Individuals can’t process what they fail to attend to. Put your phone and other devices such as watches on ‘do not disturb mode’. Have a signal to others that you don’t want to be disturbed. This shows the respect for both the person and the conversation as a whole.
Do a mental check in and reset your mindset – Do you have any preconceived bias to the person or information that is being discussed? Do you hate a particular topic and therefore try to rush the conversation? Do a mental reset and try to identify the filters that could impact on what you are hearing.
Don’t be the one talking. If you are listening, you can’t be the one talking. Are you trying to learn something? Expand your perspective? You can’t do that and be the one talking.
Concentrate on what is being communicated – Try not to mentally jump ahead or guess the next question. Work hard at being with the flow of conversation moment to moment rather than what you will say next.
Are you interested? – This might sound obvious but the biggest difference between someone who is hearing versus listening is the ability to show genuine interest in what they are saying.
Ask questions – Use more open than closed questions to check your understanding. Use questions to help summarise and confirm the information.
Taking the time to practice the skill of effective listening will give its own rewards. We are what we repeatedly do and how you communicate is a critical part of the quality of your relationships in both work and life.
This is definitely a super power worth investing in…