Steps to effective listening

One of the things I have to do as a coach/leader is to be a great listener. Sometimes effective listening can be a challenge because, like most people, I can fall into the trap of thinking about my response and how I would like to help the individual with whom I am communicating. One of my frustrations has always been that many people begin developing their response as soon as the other person starts speaking rather than truly listening to the message spoken to them. As I was going through some information this weekend, I came across a great summary on the four steps to effective listening. Permission was given to use the information as freely as possible and so I am sharing the main points with you.

  1. Listening is an activity; it is not something we do passively. The skill of active listening needs to be applied, be there and stay focused on the person talking, without any distractions. It requires us to ask questions and give feedback. So here are four basic goals of good listening to consider when entering a conversation:

– To understand someone

– To enjoy someone

– To learn something

– To give help or solace

Paraphrasing is a basic tool we often use to listen well. We might use phrases like these:

– In other words, did you mean…?

– So how you felt about it was…?

– Did you mean…?

– I think what I am hearing you say is…?

– Correct me if I am wrong…?

Paraphrasing defines common ground, lets the other person know you understand what it is they are communicating, and it helps them feel understood and appreciated.

  1. Listen with empathy. This requires us to recognize, accept and understand that we are doing the best we can and so are others. Try to put yourself in the other individual’s shoes and give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Try to understand where someone else is coming from and treat him or her with kindness as you take in the message. Ask what difficulties the other person is experiencing and this will help you hear his or her message. Pay attention to their body language, keep an open mind and be careful not to jump to conclusions.
  2. Be open as you listen. Be careful not to judge and put on your critical parent hat. Do not make your mind up too quickly as you take in the information. Give yourself some time to think and reflect. Try not to come to conclusions too quickly and develop a definitive position based on what you are hearing. Allow yourself to consider different perspectives. Whenever possible have the meeting face to face, or with video conferencing if in person isn’t possible, so that you can better understand their thoughts and feelings being expressed nonverbally.
  3. Listen with awareness. There are two parts to this; compare what is said to your own knowledge, history, people and the way the world operates; and secondly listen and observe for congruence. Watch for visual cues and try to determine if they match the information you were hearing. Effective communication is a two way street so make sure that you let them know that they were heard and understood before moving to a new topic.
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