A Good Communicator is a Good Listener
In the endeavour to become better communicators, we tend to neglect the other half of the battle – listening. Now, this is much more than just hearing.. Listening is an active process; it demands a conscious effort. Although effective listening leads to an improvement in most aspects of human interaction, it is vital in corporate life.
Even if you are an expert in your field, you can always learn more. Do you find yourself really listening to what others are saying when they are giving you information or do you find yourself waiting to speak? Dominating every conversation is an unattractive quality and it devalues your credibility, even if you are an expert on a given topic. People like to feel like they are in a reciprocal conversation, so talk with people, not at them.
When you meet new people, do you talk about yourself or do you learn who they are by listening? Here are some tips to get your started on the right track:
1. Pay Attention
The most obvious point may just be the most difficult to pull off. No matter how mundane or irrelevant the topic may feel, do not permit yourself any distractions. Letting your mind wander, getting distracted by buzzwords, or forming rebuttals in your head are huge no-nos in active listening. Not only is giving the speaker your undivided attention polite, it is also an acknowledgment of their message. This may provide them with greater confidence, allowing them to relay their ideas in a more effectual way
2. Keep your body language in tune
Our actions prepare us for and keep us in check during the listening process. Fidgeting, picking at your nails or shaking your legs can be terribly distracting both to you and the speaker. Maintaining eye contact without staring, an open or inviting stance to the speaker and nodding appropriately are just some ways to make sure that we are listening attentively.
We all have different life experiences and preconceived notions, so it is very easy to lose sight of the message, especially if it carries emotional weight. Although the speaker’s style of delivery is important, try not to let it take away from the message conceived. Be aware of and put aside your own biases – your purpose is to learn something from the speaker. It is perfectly fine to come in with opposing views and interests, as Voltaire put it so eloquently, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.”
4. Don’t interrupt
Interrupting or finishing the speaker’s sentences provides more harm than good, especially since it can distract other listeners. Let the speaker finish what he or she has to say before asking questions or rebutting them. This lets you get the whole picture, which may entail a completely different message than if you only paid attention to a few specific points.
5. Don’t try to impress or influence the speaker
In the haste of communication, many people forget that it is not a competition. You do not earn brownie points for trying to push your own agenda, or trying to be ‘helpful’ to the speaker. Doing all these not only interferes with what the speaker is trying to say, it also prevents you from potentially learning a new point of view.
As an active listener, you are more than welcome to ask for clarification. Bear in mind, this should be done in the least interruptive way as possible. You may ask for the overarching framework or for specific examples. It is more helpful to the speaker if you ask open-ended exemplary questions, instead of close-ended ones, as speakers may interpret a close-ended question as a voicing of view. For instance, ask “may I have an example of that?” instead of “is this an example of that?” Clarification is particularly useful when the topic may be of an emotional or cultural nature.
7. Provide helpful feedback
Again, being an active listener does not mean you have to stay mum. It is appropriate and supportive to give candid and constructive comments. There is nothing to be gained from attacking or putting down the speaker, except a reputation for being disruptive and perhaps even rude.
8. Paraphrase the speaker’s message
This is an extremely useful tip and is usually done when providing feedback. It forces us to really pay attention to what the speaker is saying. The easiest way to do this would be to jot down what the speaker has said in your own words.
Effective communication is a two way street that requires the synchronization of the speaker and listener. The speaker may have the most powerful ideas and views, yet these are ultimately useless when there is no attention given.
Posted by Wei Wen Sng, Public Relations Executive, Corporate Media.