Active Listening

Hear What People are Really Saying

by Kellie Fowler

It is obvious to say that if you have poor interpersonal communications skills (which include active listening), your productivity will suffer simply because you do not have the tools needed to influence, persuade and negotiate – all necessary for workplace success. Lines of communications must be open between people who rely on one another to get work done.

Considering this, you must be able to listen attentively if you are to perform to expectations, avoid conflicts and misunderstandings, and to succeed - in any arena. Following are a few short tips to help you enhance your communications skills and to ensure you are an active listener:

1. Start by Understanding Your Own Communication Style
Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. Understanding your personal style of communicating will go a long way toward helping you to create good and lasting impressions on others. By becoming more aware of how others perceive you, you can adapt more readily to their styles of communicating. This does not mean you have to be a chameleon, changing with every personality you meet. Instead, you can make another person more comfortable with you by selecting and emphasizing certain behaviors that fit within your personality and resonate with another. In doing this, you will prepare yourself to become an active listener.

2. Be an Active Listener
People speak at 100 to 175 words per minute (WPM), but they can listen intelligently at 600 to 800 words per minute. Since only a part of our mind is paying attention, it is easy to go into mind drift - thinking about other things while listening to someone. The cure for this is active listening - which involves listening with a purpose. It may be to gain information, obtain directions, understand others, solve problems, share interest, see how another person feels, show support, etc.

If you're finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say it - this will reinforce their message and help you control mind drift.

3. Use Nonverbal Communication
Use nonverbal behaviors to raise the channel of interpersonal communication. Nonverbal communication is facial expressions like smiles, gestures, eye contact, and even your posture. This shows the person you are communicating with that you are indeed listening actively and will prompt further communications while keeping costly, time-consuming misunderstandings at a minimum.

4. Give Feedback
Remember that what someone says and what we hear can be amazingly different! Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. Repeat back or summarize to ensure that you understand. Restate what you think you heard and ask, "Have I understood you correctly?" If you find yourself responding emotionally to what someone said, say so, and ask for more information: "I may not be understanding you correctly, and I find myself taking what you said personally. What I thought you just said is XXX; is that what you meant?"

Feedback is a verbal communications means used to clearly demonstrate you are actively listening and to confirm the communications between you and others. Obviously, this serves to further ensure the communications are understood and is a great tool to use to verify everything you heard while actively listening.

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