When people talk with you, do you hear or do you listen? Unless you’re hearing-impaired, hearing what others say just happens naturally. Listening, however, takes much more concentration.
Think about the last time you really needed to talk to somebody or you had a business problem. Chances are you were drawn to the friend, family member or salesperson that knows how to listen well. These people stand out because most people tend to be “hard of listening,” not “hard of hearing.” You may not always share the same opinion with someone, but you turn to them because they are present and interested. That is, they are active listeners.
The impact of active listening can be positive for both individuals and businesses. Active listening is the foundation for good rapport because the use of active listening is the only way you will truly get to know another person’s point of view. Good rapport, in turn, is the foundation to long-lasting partnerships. This can mean deep friendships for individuals and profitable relationships for businesses.
There are steps you can take to improve your active listening skills and the quality of your conversations with others:
- Create the proper atmosphere – Provide your undivided attention. It’s not the time to check your email, watch television, or answer the phone. To be present, shut off the chatter in your head. Don’t think about anything else except what the speaker has to say. This will allow you to demonstrate interest in the person through welcoming body language and good eye contact. If possible, choose a private space to minimize distractions.
- Be responsive and empathetic – Read the speaker. Listening involves making the appropriate responses based on the content of and emotion behind what was spoken. This can only happen when you allow yourself to experience the feelings or thoughts of another. Offer signals to show the speaker you are interested in the conversation. This includes nodding your head, offering comments or encouraging the speaker to continue sharing his or her story through empathic statements.
- Check your understanding – Reflect back on what was said by summarizing – taking the words of the speaker, condensing it and offering it back to the speaker to see if you have accurately understood what was said. A former President captured this idea when he once said, “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
So, are you listening actively or just hearing?