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Six techniques to master to become an active listener

Bob Hayward

Have you ever had to tell the same person, the same exact thing, more than once? Annoying isn’t it? And a waste of everyone’s time. Contributor Bob Hayward, Business Consultant and the co-author of the new book ‘Persuade’.

Effective communication is a two-sided coin. What good is cheese without crackers? What is bread without butter?  What is the good of explaining something to someone who is not listening? The answer is not much! As Frank Sinatra once said; they (speaking and listening) go together like a ‘horse and carriage.’

The ability to communicate is the very lifeblood of business relationships. Many of the problems we end up dealing with as Managers stem from poor communication. And often that is in the listening side of the coin.

As Stephen Covey said in The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, “Seek first to understand. Then to be understood.”

In 1960, David Berlo postulated a Sender-Message-Channel-Receiver (SMCR) model of communication. For any communication process to succeed, there is a need for all the elements (sender, message, channel and receiver) to function properly and align together.

Which is why, active listening plays a very important role in determining the success of the communication process. Unless the receiver fully understands the message that is being communicated, he cannot provide feedback, and the process cannot be completed.

Listening is generally split into two type Active and Passive.

Passive listening is not a bad form of listening, if it is done well. To be effective with passive listening we listen with the intent of understanding, with an open mind, even if we are attending a video presentation, we want to learn, we want to absorb. You communicate this attention through slight facial expressions, sub-conscious body language and non-committal words. You face the speaker, make eye contact, lean in toward the speaker, have an open, relaxed posture, nod or shake your head. Non-committal words are sometimes used such as “Hmm,” “I see,” “Interesting,” “Oh yeah,” and so on.

Passive listening can be a challenge because our minds can move faster than any speakers mouth, so it is quite possible that our mind may drift from the topic of discussion occasionally. One big risk is the “in one ear and out the other” issue; while our minds are thinking about other things.

So, what is Active Listening?
Passive listening is the foundation stone. Do that well and active listening becomes easier. Active listening requires you to “get inside” the speaker’s head so that you can understand the communication from their point of view. You work to understand what the speaker wants to communicate rather than what you want to understand. You listen objectively without judging content. You do whatever is necessary to get the full intended meaning from the speaker’s communication.

The two main skills involved in active listening are perception checking and paraphrasing.

  • 1.Perception checking involves you asking questions about what they said. Ask questions to explore further, to seek a deeper understanding, to clarify any doubts, to fill any gaps, or to build on what the speaker has said. Providing the subject of your question is linked explicitly to the theme of what the speaker has told you, then they will consider you have been listening and are taking an active interest in their ideas.
  • 2.Paraphrasing and summarising is telling the speaker what they have said but in your own words. This invites the speaker to hear what you have understood. If your paraphrase doesn’t sound quite right to them, they can clarify. As Anatole France said, ‘It is better to be understood a little than to be misunderstood a lot.’

So here are the top listening techniques to master

Defer or withhold judgment.
Effective listening requires an open mind. Avoid mentally preparing a rebuttal the moment the other person starts talking! Pay attention actively, show you are listening visually with eye contact, smiles, nods and make those “I am listening noises” even repeat one or two short words they’ve used, in your head if not out loud.

Let the other person finish speaking.
Count two seconds after their last word before you reply. Taking notes to aid your listening. This demonstrates to the speaker that they are being heard and that you are ‘pursuing’ that understanding. Check your perception – ask open questions, get them to elaborate. Paraphrase and Summarise – feed back to them your understanding to complete the encoding – decoding loop as per Berlo’s SMCR model.

Show genuine respect to the speaker
Pay authentic attention, do not pre-judge or interrupt, and save your questions and comments till the end. Ask plenty of questions and summarise well. A person who can listen proactively not only makes a great communicator, they develop better relationships with others and have more influence. Bob Hayward is a business consultant and the co-author of the new book ‘Persuade’ which he wrote with the late Nick Baldock.

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