When creating on-line learning modules, we often have to collaborate with Special Matter Experts and this requires special listening skills so we can differentiate the important stuff if we are designing Just-in-Time Learning.

 

So, this is when I was reminded of the importance of good listening skills.  Listening is a bit like intelligence – most people think they’re above average, even though that’s mathematically impossible.

 

Listening is a skill you want to be exceptional at if you are to achieve in this life.  A recent study conducted at George Washington University showed listening can influence up to 40% of a leader’s job performance.

 

Effective listening is something that can be learned and mastered.  Even if you find attentive listening difficult and, in some specific situations, downright boring or unpleasant, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.  You just have to know what to work on.  These strategies will help you get started on your listening skills.

 

Focus

The biggest mistake many people make when it comes to listening is that they are so focused on what they are going to say next or how what the other person is saying is going to affect them that they fail to properly hear what is being said.  The words come through loud and clear, but the meaning is lost.  Focusing may seem like a simple suggestion, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.  Your thoughts can be very distracting.

 

Put Away Your Phone

It’s impossible to listen well and monitor your phone at the same time.  Nothing turns people off like a mid-conversation text message or even a quick glance at your phone.  When you commit to a conversation, focus all your energy on the conversation.  You will find that conversations are more enjoyable and effective when you immerse yourself in them.

 

Ask Good Questions

People like to know you are listening, and sometimes a simple clarification question shows not only that you are listening but that you also care about what they are saying.  You’ll be surprised how much respect and appreciation you gain just by asking good questions.  In addition to verifying what you’ve heard, you should ask questions that seek more information.  Examples of probing questions are “what happened next?”, or “Why did he say that?”.  The key is to make certain that your questions really do add to your understanding of the speaker’s words, rather than deflecting the conversation to a different type.

 

Practice Reflective Listening

Psychologist Carl Rogers used the term “reflective listening” to describe the listening strategy of paraphrasing the meaning of what’s being said in order to make certain you’ve interpreted the speaker’s words correctly.  By doing this, you give the speaker the opportunity to clarify what she meant to say.  When you practice reflective listening, don’t simply repeat the speaker’s words to her.  Use your own words to show you’ve absorbed the information.

 

Use Positive Body Language

Becoming conscious of your gestures, expressions, and tone of voice, and making them positive, will draw people to you like flies at a picnic.  Using an enthusiastic tone, uncrossing your arms, maintaining eye contact, and leaning forward towards the speaker are all forms of positive body language employed by great listeners.

 

Don’t Pass Judgement

If you want to be a good listener, you must be open-minded.  Being open-minded makes you approachable and interesting to others.  No one wants to have a conversation with someone who has already formed an opinion and is not willing to listen.  Having an open mind is crucial in the workplace, where approachability means access to new ideas and help.  To eliminate pre-conceived notions and judgement, you need to see the world through other people’s eyes.  This doesn’t require you to believe what they believe or condone their behaviour, it simply means that you quit passing judgement long enough to truly understand what they are saying.

 

Keep Your Mouth Shut

If you’re not checking for understanding or asking a probing question, you shouldn’t be talking.  Not only does thinking about what you are going to say next take your attention away from the speaker, hijacking the conversation shows that you think you have something more important to say.  This means you shouldn’t jump in with solutions to the speaker’s problems.  It’s human nature to want to help people, especially when it’s someone you care about, but what a lot of us don’t realise is that when we jump in with advice or a solution, we’re shutting the other person down.  It’s essentially a more socially acceptable way of saying, “It’s OK, you can stop now!”  The effect is the same.

 

Conclusion

Life is busy, and it seems to whirl by faster every day.  We all crowd our daily schedules and sometimes it works out.  But active, effective listening isn’t something you can do instinctively.  It requires a conscious effort.