Can You Hear Me Now? Active Listening 101

Can you hear me now?

We’ve all been in situations when the person to whom we are speaking is zoning out and not fully grasping what we are saying. It’s frustrating and has been accelerated with multi-tasking, the constant tether to our smart phones, driving meetings, and camera-off Zoom calls without eye contact. It also happens in face-to-face scenarios, so we can’t blame it on remote work or digital communication alone.

The gift of your undivided attention.

Boogaard goes on to say that. “…you may only need your ears to hear, but you need your whole brain to listen.” Giving someone your undivided attention is a true gift. The unconditional focus on what they are saying takes time, concentration, and respect. You must remove distractions and listen to understand.

Introverts and extroverts.

As an extrovert, I am energized by people, I often think out loud and on occasion have to revise what I say since my mouth can engage faster than my brain. My executive coach encourages me to:

True understanding.

Active listening takes us to a deeper level of understanding and can offer the listener a chance to ask for clarification.

A tactical approach.

If you are game to polish your active listening skills, here are the basics to get you started channeling the work of MindTools.

  • Prepare to listen. Reboot your attention and focus on the other person with a fresh start and an open mind. This also works in a group setting, or if you are an audience member listening to a speaker.
  • Observe the verbal and non-verbal cues. You must listen with your eyes and your ears, since 55% of communication is non-verbal. Remember that your non-verbal cues are equally important as the listener. How are you showing your undivided attention with your body language?
  • Engage in two-way communication. Providing feedback, questions, or rephrasing key points not only helps you retain what you heard (taking notes also helps), it shows the speaker that you are engaged.

Why active listening matters.

  • Improves relationships. We can all relate to a time when someone we care about was not fully focused on our important message. The term “intermittent listening” makes me bristle. Consider how you feel when someone gives you the gift of their full and undivided attention. It boosts your self-confidence, you feel valued and recognized, and it enhances trust in a relationship.
  • Better understanding. Let’s not ignore the obvious that active listening allows for deeper understanding and comprehension. There is an advertising paradigm that states people need to hear something at least seven times before they grasp the concept. Perhaps we can reduce that number if we engage in more active listening.
  • Bias reduction. The spotlight is focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and the awareness and mitigation of bias — conscious and unconscious. Active listening helps us step outside of our own point of view and see things from the speaker’s perspective. It reduces assumption and allows for a deeper understanding when we truly listen to listen.

Prepare to listen.

As you work towards becoming a more active listener, consider setting the stage for success:

  • Mitigate distractions. Put down your smart phone, turn off the message prompts and audible pings on your devices that can pull your focus.
  • Check your emotions of the day at the door. Begin the conversation with a clean slate so you can listen with an open mind. Turn off the monkey chatter in your brain.
  • Have clarity about your actual attention span. While a nine-second meeting isn’t realistic, if you can hold focus for 30 minutes, be clear with friends and colleagues that a shorter engagement will lead to a more meaningful interaction with you.
  • Don’t jump to solutions. Sometimes people just want to be heard and our job as a listener is not always to provide a solution. Let the speaker guide the conversation and ask for input or solutions, so you can focus on listening.
  • Engage your body language as you listen. Eye contact, positive facial expressions, and an alert posture all indicate that you are listening fully to the speaker.
  • Don’t interrupt. I’ll say it again — listen to listen and not to respond. There will be a time for you to engage in the conversation but take the cue from the speaker.

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