Effective Listening – Sets You Apart from the Rest
Effective listening is a skill which can be considered to be more valuable than gold.
Effective listening is an integral part of communication. At a stretch, you can say that a good listener is far more rare than a great speaker but a good speaker who is a good listener is a great leader.
To quote, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking” – Bernard M Baruch (FYI – Bernard Baruch [1870-1965] was a businessman, philanthropist, statesmen and adviser to American presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D Roosevelt on economic matters)
Third century Greek biographer, Diogenes Laertius said,”We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less”.
So how do we go about doing just that?
Here are some tips on effective listening, but before I get into that, I would just like to make a point that ‘hearing’ is NOT the same as ‘listening’.
“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing” – G K Chesterton, Writer.
Hearing is done with just our ears. Listening sometimes involves all our 5 senses, even our sense of smell! Think about it….if someone says that they are fine, and their clothes are burnt and ragged, your sense of hearing will hear their words; the sense of sight will tell you that they probably are not fine, given the state they are in; the sense of smell and touch will tell you that they may have had an incident involving a fire; I’m sure you don’t want to test your sense of taste, in any case!
Now, back to those tips:
1) At all times, maintain eye contact with the person speaking. This shows attentiveness and respect for the person speaking. It also allows you to watch for non-verbal clues to what is being left unsaid.
2) Be present in the moment. Pay attention to the person speaking. Don’t let your mind wander but stay focused on what is being said.
3) Be non-judgemental. Don’t entertain disparaging thoughts about the speaker or what they are speaking about. Don’t criticise or interrupt the speaker. Hand in hand with this, don’t jump to conclusions before the person is done speaking.
4) Listen to more than just the spoken word. This brings us back to the point about hearing vs listening. Really listen without trying to form opinions and answers before the speaker has finished. You might miss something said or unsaid. This is where we pay attention to non-verbal clues. Sometimes these tell us more than what is actually being said and leads to a deeper understanding.
5) Refrain from offering solutions unless asked. Most people don’t want advice. They’ll tell you if they did. When someone speaks to us, we are essentially sounding boards. We are helping the speaker find their own solutions or come to their own conclusions.
6) Seek clarification or ask questions. But do it when the speaker pauses or asks you if you understood what he or she is saying. Again, avoid interruptions.
7) As my kids sing the refrain from a popular cartoon,” EMPATHY, EMPATHY, put yourself in place of me!” I think that sums it up nicely, don’t you? Empathise, and try to feel what the speaker is feeling. It will help you understand what the person is trying to say.
8) Appropriate feedback at appropriate times. While listening attentively, make appropriate comments like “Oh dear!”, appropriate noises like “hmmm hmm” and ask the right questions at the right times. This will help the speaker evaluate whether you understand what they are saying and also tells them that you are listening.
The bottom line is….. respect, respect, respect! If we respect the person speaking, then we will show that respect by listening effectively.
Here’s a quote to round this off:
“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them” – Ralph G Nichols, Listening Legend.
“It takes a great man to be a good listener” – Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of USA.
“The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard” – William Hazlitt, Writer.
“An appreciative listener is always stimulating” – Agatha Christie, Writer.