Effective listening contributes enormously to group dynamics and conflict resolution. In interpersonal communication, poor listening skills are at fault in many, if not most, cases of misunderstanding.
When working with others, much of the communication that takes place when suggesting, instructing, requesting, criticising, praising and negotiating is non-verbal. Listening actively by making a physical and mental effort to understand what someone else is saying engages the whole body, not just ears. It is a way of communicating that signifies:
- I hear what you are feeling
- I understand how you see things now
- I am interested and concerned
- I understand where you are
- I do not wish to judge you or change you
Also Read: [English] All You Need To Know About Nonverbal Communication
Here are seven tips for active listening:
1. Stop talking – don’t be afraid of silence:
Many people talk too much because they feel uncomfortable with silence. However, you can’t listen if you are talking.
2. Remove noise as much possible:
‘Noise’ is used in the communications sense of distractions to the unhindered transmission of the message. Therefore, it refers not only to external factors such as street noise, but also other factors, such as excessive heat or cold, and distracting mannerisms.
Common distracting mannerisms include clicking pens, shuffling papers, checking clothing or fingernails, and gazing around the room. If you need to talk to a team member or colleague about something serious, it is advisable to arrange a meeting in pleasant and relaxed surroundings.
3. Ask open questions:
Ask open questions which begin with the 5Ws and 1H: what, when, why, where, who and how. This helps to keep the conversation on the topic and to obtain as much information as possible on it.
When people answer W and H questions they have to reply in full sentences, and so their replies are more factual than they would be if the questions were of the ‘Do you…’ type, which elicits, simpler ‘yes-no’ answers.
4. Be supportive:
Let the other person know that you want to know what he or she is talking about. It is well attested that most people will talk if they get attention and interest from the listener. Sensing indifference or impatience discourages a constructive response.
5. Respond to feelings:
If the situation at hand has an emotional investment by one or all the participants, it is best to acknowledge this. Hidden or ‘bottled’ feelings may cloud or sabotage the information you require.
Suggested Read: 16 Ways to Quickly Improve Your English Language Skills
7. Summarise to check mutual understanding:
A summary ensures that both parties have the same understanding of what has been said, and helps to create closure to an issue or topic of discussion. In business, for example, a summary is formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding listing the points that have been agreed upon in a previous discussion.