The One Size Fits All Gift for Every Day – Effective Listening
The holidays are fast approaching and that brings the thought-wrenching task of coming up with gift ideas for family, friends, colleagues, etc. Are you looking for the perfect gift for those hard-to-shop-for individuals on your list? Something that everyone wants but rarely receives? Better yet, something that won’t involve sitting in traffic, battling for parking or endless check-out lines because it can’t be purchased at any store or from inside the mall? In fact, this gift won’t cost you a thing – other than your time. What is the gift in question? Listening!
Sounds simple but in our fast-paced, action-oriented world, listening has become a lost art. Listening is the foundation for effective communication. However, most of us are compelled to speak in order to feel valuable to the conversation. Speaking is usually what comes to mind when people think about communication. But speaking is only part of the process, listening is the other part and in most cases is even more important. When no one is listening, the words we speak are meaningless. According to a James Madison University Employer Survey, 78% of the respondents indicated that listening effectively is very important to the success of their organization. Yet, less than 2% of the workforce is trained in listening skills.
The Difference between Hearing and Listening
Think about the last time someone tried to talk to you. While you may have heard the words they said, did you really listen to them? There is a big difference between “hearing” and “listening”. Hearing is physiological. Our ears register sounds of all kinds – the drone of an airplane flying overhead, music in the background, children’s laughter, the noise of traffic, or the words someone speaks. It’s what we do when we hear the words that make the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is passive; it just happens. Listening is active and requires energy. Listening engages the mind and involves skill, patience, and concentration. When you are truly listening, you must pay attention, interpret the words, understand or clarify them and, if appropriate, respond to them.
Obstacles to Effective Listening
While our intentions may be good, many of us encounter obstacles that interrupt the listening process. Noise, such as a jackhammer outside the office window or traffic noise when on a cell phone, may interfere with the ability to effectively listen. Because our lives are so fast-paced and time deficient, many of us have become multi-taskers. Multi-tasking diminishes effective listening. When we are trying to do too many things at once, we can become easily distracted, missing important information within a conversation, and even worse making the person feel undervalued. Along with distractions are interruptions, such as the telephone, e-mails, texts, people coming in and out of the room, etc. Interruptions break the focus and can cause both the speaker and the listener to lose track of what is being said. Our assumptions or judgments also get in the way. Can you recall a time when you assumed you knew what someone was going to say, only to find out that you were incorrect? Sometimes people fail to listen because they are too busy formulating their response even before the person is done speaking. In some cases, even finishing the person’s sentence for them. Impatience is a serious obstacle to listening and can be caused by such things as style, status, gender or cultural differences, lack of interest, or even distrust. Do any of these barriers impact your ability to listen effectively? How does it feel to be on the receiving end of these impediments?
Where to Start
Since many obstacles can hinder our ability to listen effectively, becoming aware of what gets in our way is a great start. Self-awareness is the first step to making change. Improvement begins by assessing your listening behaviors. Are you aware of the behaviors that hold you back? A great place to start in improving your listening skills is to have a reason to listen. Without a good reason for listening, your mind might wander, and you might become impatient. Slow yourself down and consider some of the following:
If your intention is to become more effective in listening, participate in the process. Put all your energy into listening. Focus on the speaker; look them in the eyes and make them the only game. Remove any distractions and avoid interruptions by turning off your phone, going to a quiet space, and closing the door. Listen not only to the words they say but to what’s not being said.
Become curious; look for verbal and non-verbal clues and ask questions. Questions demonstrate your interest in what the other person is saying (or not saying) and can help the speaker to be more specific so you can understand better. Help make the other person right. When people feel they will be ridiculed or admonished, they will shut down and avoid sharing what is on their minds. Everyone is entitled to their feelings and opinions. While we don’t have to agree with everything being said, we can respect, acknowledge, and appreciate them.
Create Space for Open Dialogue
Let the speaker have their own style, be patient, and don’t interrupt. Give them the space to speak. W.A.I.T. before you respond. W.A.I.T. is a useful acronym for Why Am I Talking? This reminder can help you to regain focus on the speaker versus your response. Make it easy for them to communicate with you by helping the person to relax by doing so yourself. This will help the individual feel comfortable in opening up and communicating freely.
Many times, we feel that when people come to us with a problem or challenge, we need to help them solve it by providing answers and solutions. But often times what they value most is the opportunity to talk it through and be heard. By effectively listening, you allow people’s busy, hectic worlds to slow down, providing them with the time and space to quietly think things through to solve the situation or challenge on their own. And while silence can feel uncomfortable, avoid the urge to fill the space with words.
Silence can provide much-needed time for deeper thought and reflection. The power of Silence is under-utilized and can be so valuable in our chaotic lives, allowing us to calmly think things through to make better decisions.
Everyone benefits from good listening. A good listener can help individuals gain clarity and focus on important issues relieving tremendous stress. Good listeners can improve decision-making and get people into effective action. When effective listening has taken place, it creates enhanced communication, strengthens relationships, and reduces conflict. Not only does effective listening benefit the receiver but the giver as well. So, this holiday season, clear out some space for those in your life and give them the gift of your time. Let them know they matter and just listen. Effective Listening – the rare gift most have been WAITing for this holiday!