August 16, 2010

The Art of Listening

Are you a good listener? In school you can take a variety of communication courses, speaking, writing etc. It is very rare to find a listening course. To be an effective communicator goes beyond communicating what we have to say, we also have to listen.

"To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation." ~Chinese Proverb

Many of are busy multi-tasking. We answer phones, emails and text messages as we keep one ear on another conversation. By multi-tasking we think we are accomplishing more but in actuality we are dividing our attention and probably missing important information.

What are the consequences of not listening? First, you may misunderstand or not hear something that is important, not only for the speaker but for you as well. Second, if people do not feel listened to they may withdraw and not speak up in the future. This may deprive you of valuable information which results in errors or wasting valuable time.

Lastly, not listening to people negatively impacts your relationships. Here is a story to illustrate. A friend, who lives out of state, took his two daughters out for dinner when he was in town for business. His daughters are married with children and live very busy lives so it is difficult to stay in touch. He was looking forward to just spending time with them, sharing memories and hearing about their current lives. He came away from the experience frustrated and feeling unwanted because throughout the whole dinner his daughters had their phones out texting other people. They would be in the middle of a discussion and one or both would have their eyes focused on their phone reading or typing. The message he read into the situation was that other people had something more important to say then he did. Would you have felt the same?

When we listen, we validate other people. We stop what we are doing and give our attention to someone else's thoughts and words. We do not interrupt or contribute to the conversation with our own experiences until invited. By focusing totally on another person we put our own needs aside and concentrate on what is important for them to communicate.

How do we develop the skill of listening? Here are a few tips: You can start by emulating other good listeners you know. They probably have excellent eye contact and minimize other distractions. Practice also helps. When you listen to others, reflect back what they are saying to encourage them to continue. Use your body language and facial expressions to show interest. Find an accountability partner who will give you feedback on your listening skills.

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