Listening is probably the most vital part of being able to communicate effectively. If we encounter a problem in getting a point across it is natural to point a finger at the other party/parties when it is actually down to us.
Many people believe you communicate through what you say. Actually, words make up just seven per cent of effective communication. Apart from listening, we communicate through tonality, body language and what we see.
Most of us are familiar with the phrase “hearing not listening,” and that is exactly what most people do. We all need to be intensive listeners but you have to work at it.
Hearing is on the surface only, listening goes much deeper. What prevents us from being active listeners? First, we talk too much and for too long. The ideal proportion of you talking in a discussion is about 20 per cent. Why? Here is a clue – we have two ears, two eyes and one mouth. Coincidence?
Second, when we hear something we disagree with we immediately start thinking of our response. We distort or delete what we hear, something that is sometimes referred to as battle mode. The result is we do not listen to the whole story and therefore miss out on the complete picture and base any response, which we cannot wait to get across, on incomplete information.
Third, people talk in generalities which each of us will interpret differently. We often fail to clarify or ask someone to be more specific because we haven’t been listening. This is sometimes called passive listening. Exercises I run illustrate this clearly, and you can try this for yourself. Ask a group of 10 people to write down 10 words in 45 seconds they associate with the word ‘wealth’. The chances of all ten having just one word common across the group is virtually nil because we all have a different interpretation of that word . To understand the true meaning of any speaker you need to ask questions to clarify and ask the speaker to be more specific. This is the preferred listening style and is called active listening. In a decision making or influencing scenario this is critical.
Fourth, we second guess or anticipate what we think is coming hence we have stopped listening. You can think 10 times faster than the speaker can speak so it is easy to get in front of events.
Here are some useful points to help you improve your active listening:
·Whoever you are communicating with, put them at ease and demonstrate plenty of empathy.
·Eliminate as many distractions as possible.
·Do not jump into disagreeing with a point of view even though you are biting your tongue to do so.
·Ask a question and then listen. In fact ask lots of questions that enable you to get
a clear picture. Sales people, for example, are prone to not asking sufficient
questions over and above the sales shopping list.
·Ensure that your body language is aligned with your words and tonality. It is easy to spot someone who says one thing to you but the body language says the opposite.
·Avoid interrupting, particularly when dealing with unhappy customers or distressed colleagues.
·Take notes when listening and always ask permission from the speaker, buyer,
and client first as a courtesy.
Finally active listening concentrates on a response driven by fact, emotion or belief. Any reply in a discussion will revolve around one of these three categories. For example a speaker makes statements supporting a 30% increase in rates. On hearing that you switch off because “it is not possible” (belief). Better to ask, “What likely effects do you feel a rate hike of that level could have on the business short term?” (emotional). That allows you to discover more about the speaker’s case because you have been listening.
I hope by now you have come to appreciate that active listening is a fundamental skill in the communication armoury. Use it well - listen intently, listen with sincerity and ask great questions based on having listened to the whole story, not just sound bites, You will achieve a lot more both professionally and as a person. Was everyone listening?
This article was contributed by Ray Bigger. Ray is the founder and managing director of Think8, a leading coaching, consulting and training company headquartered in Singapore and a director of Hospitality Strategies Asia Pacific. Ray has more than 25 years of sales, marketing, people and team development experience. Ray is a former English Premier League and Football League Referee.
Tel: (65) 6875-0104
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