Listening Skills to Improve Your Ability to Communicate with Influence
Did you hear what they said? Or, were you busy loading for your next verbal barrage?
As my mother would remind me, one should listen twice of often as speaking. Something about the ratio of ears to mouths in the population. I have to agree with her, that one can learn a lot by listening.
Listening may not seem to be a skill that one needs to master. Yet, how often have you walked away from a meeting where one or more participants obviously were not listening? How often are points repeated in an effort to be heard?
Being able to listen, listen well, can be honed and improved. A focus on being a better listener will improve your ability to communicate and influence as a reliability engineer. It has benefits beyond our reliability work, too.
What Defines a Good Listener?
For me, a good listener is someone that actually hears and understands what someone is saying, or trying to say. Active listening is more than just being physically aware of the sounds made by another person, rather it is the mental processing and understanding what is being communicated.
While not a formal definition it helps. The art of communication involves the transfer of information from one person to another. If the receiving side is not listening, the transfer doesn’t happen.
When preparing to write or create a presentation, we often begin by understanding the audience. That involves listening.
When we ask a question, to truly get the answer, we have to listen.
A good listener is someone I enjoy talking with.
Active listening is a skill that you can work to improve. You can become a great listener. Other will enjoy time spent with you discussing the range of topics available for discussion. You will learn from every encounter, when you actively listen.
How to Improve Your Active Listening
When in a discussion you can take steps to improve your understanding of what others are saying and demonstrate that you are actually listening.
Here is a list of tips to consider and practice as you work to improve your active listening skills.
- Goal to Learn Mindset. Your frame of mind sets the stage for your ability to listen. If you are willing to learn you are willing to listen.
- Focus Closely on the Speaker. Basically, this means you are not talking and paying attention to the other person. Your focus is on the person speaking, not on your phone, computer screen, day dreaming, thinking about what to say next, etc.
- Relax and Breathe. If you are focused intently on the speaker, staring, leaning in, etc. You may be inadvertently imitating the speaker. Relax, smile, take a breath, as you pay attention. Focus closely, yet too intently.
- Picture the Words Spoken. To avoid focusing on your memories or next set of statements or a story you wish to share, instead as you listen picture the words being spoken. This may be a literal visualization of the words, as if typed or written, or more conceptual in a mind map or outline.
- Avoid Interruptions and Solutions. It is your turn to listen, so listen. Let the other person finish. Making assumptions and jumping to conclusions suggests you are not really listening.
- Feel What the Speaker is Feeling. Are they sad, happy, fearful, joyous, then be so yourself. Match the emotional state of the speaker as you listen. It changes how well you understand what they are communicating.
- Ask Open Ended Questions. Asking question to expand the conversation and explore the other persons though process and views encourage them to continue the discussion. Avoid question that require only a yes or no response.
- Ask Clarifying Questions. If you do not understand a word or concept, ask for an explanation.
- Ask for Details. Explore details by asking specific, direct question on elements of the conversation. Ask “Tell me more about…” or “How would this work?”
- Summarize and Check Understanding. When discussing a complete topic occasionally summarize the points recently discussed and ask if you understand the concepts expressed.
- Encourage the Discussion. Body language (smile or nod, for example) or a positive question to show interest helps others be confident you are interested and listening.
- Get the Total Meaning. Conversations and topics can be complex. The words alone may say one thing, yet the body language says another. Look for congruency or the lack of congruency to fully understand the message. Irony and some humor may be difficult to fully understand.
- Your Response Matters. Your body language, gestures, and comments may impede or encourage the discussion. Keep an open mind, willing to learn and understand others with different views then your own may be a challenge.
Learn More about Listening
A search for ‘active learning course’ or MOOC or training provides a long list of organizations offering ways for you to learn more about active listening.
There are other resources available online, at your local library, or you human resources department. Beyond reading these tips, it takes practice to improve your ability to listen. Try it and notice the difference in your ability to communicate effectively.