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Great Communication Skills: Listen, Listen, Listen!

Posted by on June 21, 2012

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  • Have you ever “tuned out” when someone was talking to you?
  • Has anyone ever asked you, “Are you listening to me?”

If you answered yes to either or both of these questions…congratulations! You’re human.

We’ve all made the mistake of not listening, and it almost always gets us in trouble. People have an innate need to be heard, and they’re looking for feedback from you that tells them you’re listening. This is why “pretending” to listen usually doesn’t work.

Communication Skills

Real Listening

Being quiet while someone is talking does not constitute real listening! The key to real listening is wanting and intending to do one of these four things:

  • Understanding someone
  • Enjoying someone
  • Learning something
  • Giving help

When you are really listening, following through with active feedback will show the speaker you are fully engaged. When they know you are paying attention, they can relax into their message, beginning the whole conversation on a better note.

Active Listening

“Active listening” requires feedback from you so the speaker knows you’re listening. This feedback can take many forms:

  1. Eye contact
  2. Facial expression
  3. Posture
  4. Verbal responses and asking questions
  5. Actively avoiding distractions

If you’re truly listening, the first 3 items should happen automatically. Items 4 and 5 are a little harder.

Active verbal feedback consists of paraphrasing, clarifying with questions, then sharing your reactions. Make sure you hear the whole statement before making any judgments, and listen with empathy. Make sure you are aware of any mismatches between the words being said and the speaker’s tone of voice, emphasis, facial expressions, and posture. Do all these fit together? Using these techniques will help you see past the surface to the real message being conveyed.

Actively avoiding distractions means ensuring the conversation takes place in as quiet a place as possible without phone, email, or human interruptions. Easier said than done, but doing this will ease the whole interaction and allow you to absorb the message without confusion caused by interruptions. It also signifies that you respect the speaker and their message.

Blocks to Listening

As soon as you have active listening down pat, watch out! There are some common blocks to listening that we all have to deal with, and they sneak in so stealthily you may never notice:

Communication Skills

Pay attention to where your mind wanders when someone is speaking to you. When you are able to catch yourself doing these things, you can then work on correcting these tendencies and avoiding them altogether in the future. Just imagine what an outstanding listener you can become!

Karen Holmes is a CGWA Senior Consultant and Trainer, based in the U.S. and delivering programs such as  Coaching, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Positive Power and Influence, Presentation Skills, and many more.

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