Listening is an under-rated but valuable skill to develop …
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
One of the possible advantages of all the online communication we have participated in over the past year, is a development of the skill of not talking over people. This has provided us all with a great opportunity to improve our listening skills.
However, improving our listening takes practice and concentration. As Stephen Covey states “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”.
What benefits do improved listening skills bring?
Although to hear and to listen can be found as alternatives for each other in a thesaurus, they are very different actions. We can hear a person’s words, but by listening we gain so much more of their message by becoming aware of the tone with which the speaker’s words are spoken, their body language and other non-verbal cues which can lead to a more open conversation.
Being truly listened to helps build trust with the speaker, making them feel valued and encouraged to tell the full story, with possible underlying issues being unearthed.
By speaking less and listening more, the words we speak have more impact as we become more succinct at airing them, leading to our message being better understood by others.
Our opinion of others may change by fully listening to their contributions, gaining an understanding as to how they operate and perhaps acquiring some ideas for ourselves.
Active listening can help us focus on all that is said and gather the full facts before coming to a decision.
So, how can we listen to understand?
- Create the right environment
The pandemic has changed the way we communicate, whether that be moving conversations online, or socially distanced with a face mask. This has created opportunities and challenges to the first task of preparing to listen - creating the right environment.
The acronym SOLER, introduced by Gerard Egan in his book “The Skilled Helper” is a way for the listener to be ‘physically present’ with the speaker and can still apply to the online environment:
Sit squarely - can be easier when online as there is no awkwardness about where to sit, or stand, as the location can be of your choosing before going online for the conversation to commence.
Open posture – as it tends to only be the upper half of your body that can be seen by the speaker, consider your body language e.g. no crossed arms. Even if out of sight, having both feet on the ground rather than crossing your legs may help you feel more present.
Lean forward – this is one which may need slight correction for online conversations. Although leaning towards the other shows interest in what is being said, you don’t want to loom onto their screen in an invasive manner!
Eye contact – get the online balance right between maintaining eye contact to show you are present, but not staring the speaker out so they feel uncomfortable.
Relax – perhaps easier not to fidget if you are online in your home environment. However, one of the observations that has been made of online homeworking is people becoming too relaxed and informal. So, before the conversation starts, choose somewhere quiet and comfortable where you can shut out distractions.
- Allow your mind to be open
Going into a conversation thinking you already know the outcome will be a fait accompli, go in with an open mind and listen to what is being said.
- Concentrate and be aware of confirmation bias and competitive listening
Humans talk more slowly than we hear and process words. This gives our brains the opportunity to drift off or come up with questions, but to really listen we must go with the speed of the speaker’s speech and concentrate on the words they deliver and the way they deliver them.
- Show you are listening
By nodding, smiling, or making short affirmative noises.
- Do not react immediately
As people speak, don’t interrupt to ask questions but wait until a suitable pause. Check yourself to ensure the question you ask is to clarify your understanding rather than just inquisitiveness. This stops the conversation going off at a tangent and encourages the speaker to air their thoughts and feelings.
- Reflect to show understanding
In order to acknowledge to the speaker that you understand what you are hearing, seeing and sensing, reflect back to them by paraphrasing what feelings, ideas or concerns you have heard them express. If they tell you that you haven’t got this right first time, ask them to go back over the part you haven’t understood and try reflecting again.
Many other stress management, mental health and wellbeing tips are available on our website – please have a browse to find some that work for you
This tip appeared in our Spring 2021 newsletter, if you would like future editions of our quarterly workplace wellbeing newsletter sent directly to your inbox, please sign up here.
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