by White Dove Books
Respond appropriately – If you are genuinely taking an interest and listening, this should take care of itself. However, do bear in mind that some people are less animated than others, and if you are like this, you may want to insert a few nods or verbal acknowledgements. It may help to say you understand or offer other spoken encouragements every so often. Be careful not to overdo it, though. Saying “wow”, “really?”, and “fascinating” every few seconds can be distracting in itself, or it may seem false, as though you are sticking to some formula you read in a book. You can also ask questions, provided they do not interrupt the flow of the speaker’s thoughts.
Focus on the speaker – This means fighting the temptation to prepare what you are going to say whilst they are speaking. This can be difficult to resist, especially when the speaker says something that sparks a useful response in us that we fear we will have forgotten by the time they finish speaking. If you do want to recall a point they have made, try remembering just one trigger word that will help, rather than working out your whole reply in your head in advance. Remember that the conversation will usually follow a logical flow once the speaker has finished, so there should be no need to do anything other than listen.
Minimize internal distractions – If you are finding that your own brain is chattering away when you are supposed to be listening, try to refocus your thoughts on the speaker, and keep doing this as often as required. Your ability to do this will improve with practice. It may help to behave as though your life depends on what they have to say, or you could try repeating their words mentally as they say them.
Be sincerely interested – The above two skills will be easier to master if you are genuinely interested in what the speaker has to say. As mentioned already, disinterest is a huge barrier to active listening, and conjuring interest may not be easy.
Have sympathy, feel empathy – These will allow you to take more of an interest. You can empathize by remembering a time when your emotions were on a par with the speaker’s. If you cannot recall such an occasion, you can sympathize through acceptance – accepting that they are a human being who requires understanding.
Be open-minded – Don’t prejudge the speaker. Even when they begin with a comment that rankles with you, wait until they have finished before making any decisions. Some people do not express themselves too well and may not mean exactly what they say. Comments they make subsequently make place a different perspective on their initial comments. The key is to be patient and wait. Do not assume, or allow preconceptions to wreck communications. The moment people start to disagree, the harder it becomes for both parties to actively listen.
Avoid “me” stories – These happen when a speaker says something that triggers a memory of something similar in your own experience. Then you are just waiting for them to shut up so you can share. This can be disastrous for communication because as soon as the speaker ends their sentence, you jump in and take over. “Me” stories normally begin with “Yeah, that’s just like me …” Phrased in such a way, the listener has justified their interjection by linking their circumstances with the speaker’s. However, such stories are little more than an opportunity to talk about your favorite subject: yourself. They may also end up taking the conversation so far off-topic that the original impetus is lost. Keep your stories to yourself, unless the speaker specifically asks if you have experienced a similar situation because they genuinely want to know how you handled it.
Don’t be scared of silence – Active listening requires that you take time to absorb what you have heard, analyze it, and then respond. Commenting instantly may give the impression that you have been formulating your response when you should have been listening. You may also be coming in too early. The speaker may only have paused to clarify their thoughts before speaking again, and may need that silence to think in. Be assured that if they do want you to speak, they will let you know. They may ask: “What do you think?” or “What would you do?”
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