The two-way nature of communication – so that both sides understand each other – is widely ignored. Listening techniques are vital since how you listen conveys meaning to the other person and helps to make the exchange successful.
When you are in search of information, consensus, or a working relationship, the more obviously you listen attentively, the better. You may need to speak to get a response, but show you do not wish to dominate the conversation. Ask open questions which lead to discussion, and keep your responses brief. Repeat key words silently and hear them help you remember what is said.
Take statements at face value without reading hidden meanings into what is being said. Test your understanding by rephrasing statements and repeating them to the speaker. It should then be clear that you have understood each other – or that they may correct you and clarify their statements. However, watch for physical signs, such as evasive eye contact, and verbal signs, such as hesitation or contradictions, that provide clues to the truthfulness of the message. Be careful not to hear only what you want to hear and nothing else.
When what you see or hear only fulfils your own expectations, you probably have an inflexible mindset. Most people have this problem and are unconsciously influenced by stereotypical views. We are also influenced by others, and often adopt their opinions without thinking. Prejudices block good communication. If you can recognize your prejudiced ideas, you will be a better listener.
Personal prejudices may be difficult to eradicate because they are in-built and exist regardless of the behaviour or character of other people. A frequent mistake is to assume that you know what someone is going to say, and not to listen to the actual message. However, people do not always behave according to stereotype or expectation. Listen very carefully to what people are saying to you and do not let your prejudices get in the way.
Responding To Someone
The first step in responding to what you hear is to listen properly. If you are preparing an answer or are thinking about what to say next while you should be listening, you are not giving your full attention to what is being said. In your own response, outline what you have understood so far. If you need repetition, further explanation, or extra information, do not hesitate to ask for it.
Acting On What You Hear
In some cases, communication is an end in itself – an update on progress, for example. In others, the action is vital – clearing a bottleneck, say. What you must never do is promise action and fail to deliver. A classic example is the employee attitude survey, which always raises the expectation of action to remedy management errors. Failure to act on the survey findings means you have not listened and instead delivers a harmful message. Keep your promises – and take action as soon as possible.
Points to remember:
- Confidence in inspired in a speaker if you listen intently.
- What you are told should be regarded as trustworthy unless proved otherwise.
- Misunderstandings are caused by wishful listening – hearing only what you want to hear.
- Constant interruptions can be very off-putting for people who find it difficult to get across their point of view.
- Know which questions to ask – it will help you get the right answers.
- Use silence confidently as a tool to encourage hesitant speakers.
- Think about the words you hear, not the person saying them.
- Keep an open mind about what people say.
- Put promises in writing as soon as you can to avoid misunderstandings.