Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Listening is Not the Same as Hearing

Hearing and Listening, though synonymous, are completely different things. Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear, whereas listening requires more than that: it requires focus.  Listening means paying attention not only to the story, but how it is told, the use of language and voice, and how the other person uses his or her body.  In other words, it means being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages.  Your ability to listen effectively depends on the degree to which you perceive and understand these messages.

Listening is not automatic.

It takes practice.

It takes intention.

It is a skill — one that is capable of being not only honed, but lost.

Listening is key to all effective communication, without the ability to listen effectively messages are easily misunderstood – communication breaks down and the sender of the message can easily become frustrated or irritated.

Listening is so important that many top employers provide listening skills training for their employees.  This is not surprising when you consider that good listening skills can lead to: better customer satisfaction, greater productivity with fewer mistakes, increased sharing of information that in turn can lead to more creative and innovative work.

Here are ten useful tips that can help you become a good listener:

1. Take time to listen.  Obviously there are times when you're busy for extended discussions.  But you need to set aside times when you can listen carefully to employee's problems, reactions, concerns, and suggestions.

2.  Let employees know that you're approachable.  Adopt an "open door" policy.  That is, communicate your willingness to hear what employees have to say.  Demonstrate that it's safe to talk to you.

3.  Put the other person at ease. Give them space and time and "permission" to speak their peace.   Watch how you look at them, how you stand or sit, it makes a huge difference. Relax, and let them relax as well.

4.  If people don't come to you, go to them.  Some employees may take advantage of your "open door" by approaching you with their concerns.  Others will be reluctant to do so, for any of f variety of reasons (shyness, fear of being judged, unwillingness to complain about others, and so on).

5. Set-up multiple means, both formal and informal, for communicating with employees.  Some employees are comfortable talking face to face.  Others would rather send a note by email.  Some will speak up during a formal team meeting.  Others will reveal their concerns only in casual conversations around the snack machine.  Make multiple possibilities available so that you hear from everyone.

6.  Pay attention to nonverbal signals: tone, vocalizations (such as "um," "uh," laughs, and sighs), body postures, and gestures.  Often a person will say one thing but signal nonverbally that the true meaning is different.  For instance, "okay" said with a deep sigh does not really mean "okay."

7. Remove distractions. Good listening means being willing to stop working computer, close a door, stop reading your email, or only answer emergency calls.. Give the speaker your full attention, and let them know they are getting your full attention.

8.  Avoid anticipation.  Don't jump to conclusions or assume that you understand a person's comment before he or she has finished talking.  You may misunderstand, or you may discourage people from saying what they truly mean.

9.  Suspend judgment.  Don't decide on the spot whether the speaker is right or wrong.  Wait until you have a chance to think the matter over.

10. Use active listening techniques.  Active listening mean taking an active part in the conversation to make sure you are grasping fully what the speaker is trying to say.  Active listening involves techniques such as these:

  • Attending. Focusing closely on the speaker and maintaining eye contact.
  • Paraphrasing. Repeating what the speaker has said in your own words, giving him or her an opportunity to correct you if you have misunderstood: "You're saying that the procedure seems too complicated, is that it?"
  • Summarizing.  Offering an occasional summary of the main points made so far: "Let's see, you've mentioned three problems…"
  • Interpretation checking.  Stating your interpretation of what the speaker is conveying – both ideas and feelings – and asking if you're correct: "It sounds like you're upset that you didn't get earlier feedback on you handling of this project, is that right?"
  • Using clarifying questions.  Asking questions that attempt to make a point clearer or more explicit:  "Are your suggesting we change our procedures?"
  • Using probing questions.  Asking questions that encourage the other person to expand or elaborate on what was said: "I think I see the problem, but why do you think it happened?"

Good listeners become good communicators.  They understand the importance of speaking clearly in an easy to understand manner.  When it's hard to interpret what you mean, you greatly increase the chances of a misunderstanding.

Many successful leaders and entrepreneurs credit their success to effective listening skills. Effective listening is a skill that underpins all positive human relationships, spend some time thinking about and developing your listening skills – they are the building blocks of success.

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