When we sit in face-to-face conversations with others, whether it’s a friend, your child, your spouse, or teammate; how frequently are you thinking about nothing else other than the words that are coming out of the individual’s mouth? Probably not too often. You may be surprised to know that research shows only about 10% of us listen effectively.
In our industry, we are so distracted by the dings, bells, and tweets from our mobiles, not to mention our ever-growing to-do lists. We are tasked with providing a positive experience for candidates or interaction with colleagues, yet we struggle to focus and listen when people talk to us. If we’re not distracted by today’s technologies, we often find ourselves distracted by our thoughts that can keep us from really listening to another human.
We try to convince ourselves that we are listening but let’s be real; often we’re just considering how to jump in to tell our own experience, offer advice, make a judgment. In other words, we aren’t proactively listening to understand, but rather to reply. I am guilty of this and working hard to correct this since I want to be present both professionally and personally.
In our industry, active listening is such an essential skill and one of the best ways to connect with others. Good news is that it is a skill that can be improved with some effort. To be clear, there’s a distinct difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a physiological act; listening involves our ability to unpack the meaning of words, and the silences in between.
Why It’s Important to Be an Active Listener
Research has found that active listening helps us focus on understanding others and improves our relationships by building that trust, reducing possible conflict, and increasing our abilities to motivate and inspire those with whom we’re communicating. Listening to candidates share their experience, along with sharing our own experience, can encourage us to put our attention into another person’s world, which can cultivate authentic connections.
I have a variety of ways that can help. I am pretty sure there are more, but these are a good start.
Practicing may seem odd to apply as an exercise, but it can help prepare one to be a good active listener. Find a willing team member and share how you both could benefit and face each other with no distractions other than a watch or a timer. For two minutes, one of you will speak, answering while the other practices listening. If you’re the listener, do not respond at all during the two minutes, but feel free to use facial expressions or nod your head while listening. This suggestion is to listen to the words for the sake of listening, not to reply. Then, switch roles for another two minutes. Try doing this for a month, once a week.
Start and establish a place of safety, open-mindedness, and acceptance. Most of us have developed a behavior of judging an individual by what they share and or think about what advice we want to offer as we hear them speak. It’s essential to avoid these patterns will help you to focus more on what the person is saying, and less on your interpretation or goals. Before starting into a conversation, apply the following suggestions:
- Stay fully present and listen.
- Keep from judging what the other person is saying.
- Refrain from offering advice.
- Avoid interpreting this person’s experience.
Be attentive but relax. Active listening is not about concentrating too hard but rather to be respectful and aware of the individual who is speaking in a natural and focused way. It’s best to block out distractions. Put down your laptop, keep your mobile in your desk, and be in a space that will eliminate outside distractions. We are all guilty at this and it can create unnecessary stress on the individual who is needing to feel you are present.
Listen to both the words and the silence between the words. I found this to be very challenging, I most of us are uncomfortable with pauses and what we may label awkward silences. In those pauses, we can take advantage of and reflect on the meaning of what the individual is conveying. This is probably the hardest part of listening, so try to keep your mind from wandering during those moments of silence; there may be significantly behind the pause itself, so it’s important to be observant.
Ask open-ended questions. When it feels appropriate to engage in response, ask questions that are open-ended, such as: “What was that like?” or “How did that feel?”. This will make a better dialogue and give you the chance to continue gaining information and building trust. Everyone has something to say, stories to share, and words that we can learn from each other. I encourage you to practice, continue to become an excellent listener and listen to those around you. Whether they are someone you have known for a long time or someone new. You never know where someone else’s words may lead you or you may need someone to listen to you.