Listening is a challenge. We are bombarded with so much stimulation, noise, and digital overload that our attention span and ability to listen are becoming less and less. Social media has reduced one-on-one communication and has eliminated all the small social cues we get when we listen and talk face to face. We hear, but we do not listen. Also, as we have become more divided culturally, we are quick to put people in particular silos based on labels and “trigger” words.
We do a lousy job of listening. We may hear the word coming out of a person’s mouth, but we allow internal and external distractions to steal our focus. The typical process for many people today is to speak and then, in turn, wait to talk again. We never really hear what the other person is saying because we are already processing what we are going to say next.
Because of the breakdown in listening, many people feel disrespected, which creates more conflict and misunderstanding. There are three basic things a person can do to become a more active listener and improve the process:
- Focus your attention – The typical trap is to begin thinking about what you are going to say next when you are talking to someone. Don’t follow your thoughts, judgments and preconceived ideas. Focus on the other person and what they are saying. Look him/her in the eyes, and keep from crossing your arms because of the body language message you are sending. The power of being engaged with what is being said changes the conversation and tone.
- Respect the speaker – We have become so quick to try to discredit a person, and we are losing the dignity of ideas and exchange. Appreciating the speaker and the points he/she is trying to make sends a positive vibe that can change the whole tenor of a conversation. The person in your conversation is now subconsciously picking up the vibe of respect. He/She feels more comfortable and can communicate more effectively. The conversation moves from confrontation to dialogue.
- Playback – Keep the focus on the speaker until the speaker has finished, and then paraphrase what he/she just said to confirm your understanding. Sometimes in a conversation, I will ask the person to repeat what he/she has just said because I may have missed something in tone or words.
Our lack of listening skills did not happen overnight, and improving our abilities to listen will take time. Good listening skills don’t mean you have to agree with everything that is being said, but it does give you the skillset to have a deeper and better understanding of what someone else is thinking or feeling.
Don’t lose the power of listening. Active listening is a game-changer for relationships and business.