The art of listening – the basis of good communication.

Miłosz Wójcik on 3 October 2017

No matter what position you’re working on, good communication helps you to achieve greater efficiency. It’s obvious, but not everyone knows what “communication skills” really means, and even fewer people know what it means in practice.

One of the most important communication skills is active listening. Contrary to appearances, this is a complex competence  that requires conscious development. How good listener you are has a great impact on the quality of your work and relationships with other people, and therefore on the quality of your life. It is therefore a good idea to consciously work on that ability.

Active listening means focusing not only on the content, but also on the speaker (their emotions, tone of voice, body language). Most of us simply passively “hear” what someone is saying to us, not exploring the subject, not to mention focusing on the speaker’s emotions.

Below you will find a list of tips to help you become a better listener.

Decide if now is the right moment to have a conversation. A mistake, often committed out of courtesy, is to allow someone to start a long argument at a time when you are not able to give them your attention. When you cannot focus on the conversation, suggest another day or hour.

Choose the right place where no one or nothing will interfere with your conversation.

Be patient and let the other person tell the whole story by presenting the context and their point of view. Urging someone with “that’s great but what is your point” usually gets the speaker blocked and shows that what they’re saying is not that important to you.

Show interest and attention. Just nodding your head at the right moments, or words (and sounds) such as “mhm”, “ok”, “I understand”, give the sender a clear sign that you are present.

Maintain eye contact. You do not have to constantly look the person straight in the eyes, but looking at your computer or phone screen shows that you are not focused on what someone is saying to you. Besides, it can be viewed as disrespectful and frustrating to the other person.

Provide feedback. The role of the listener is to understand what has been said. To achieve this, it’s a good idea to ask a question from time to time to make sure you understand what someone wants to tell you. A good method to make sure that we understand the other person’s intent is to paraphrase (“You said you would like to…. did I understand you correctly?).

Do not be afraid to ask someone to repeat what they said when you did not hear something or  “lose the thread” for a moment.

Watch the emotions that often speak more than words. Pay attention to the tone of the speech, the tempo of the voice, the words and the gestures used.

Sometimes it is best to ask directly “how do you feel about it?”.

Follow the person, not trying to shift the conversation in the direction that seems right to you. However, if you notice that the digression starts to deviate from the main point, kindly ask “how is it related to what you were saying before?”

Do not comment, judge or criticize what the other person says. And it’s not just about not saying it loudly. One of the biggest obstacles to understanding what someone wants to convey to us is our parallel internal dialogue. Getting rid of this internal commentator is a huge challenge and requires a long and conscious effort. The effects are amazing.

Do not interrupt or advise when you are not asked for advice. Getting rid of the habit of giving advice is especially difficult for smart and educated people who are quick to come up with solutions. Remember that interrupting carries the following – unspoken – messages:

        “What I have to say is more important, more interesting, more valuable.”

        “I don’t care what you think.”

        “I’m more important than you”

It takes a lot of time and concentrated effort to effectively implement the above guidelines. It’s difficult because it requires changing many habits learned over the years, but the effects will reward the efforts. Active listening makes our relationships with our surroundings deeper and more lasting. It also allows us to identify and solve problems at an early stage and to capture the opportunities that will contribute to our further development and success.

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