When you are in conversation with someone, how well are you listening? How well a person listens can have a lasting impact on their career trajectory, skills as a leader, and relationships with others. We have all heard stories of the boss, the spouse, or the kids that “just don’t listen.” Are you a listener who is thinking of your response to what’s said? Or, are you listening to understand things from the other person’s point of view? And, while listening, are you focused only on the words said? Or, perhaps there are other equally or maybe even more essential aspects of communication that you might be observing.
Communication is a two-way street, so it is both the speaker’s & the listener’s responsibility to ensure that what is heard is as was intended. There are, however, many factors involved in how the listener receives the message sent by the speaker. Our ability to listen and how well we listen can be affected by our thoughts, beliefs, biases, and emotions at the time of the communication. For example, if you are stressed and anxious about an upcoming deadline, and your team lead brings you another issue to solve, you may be less likely to listen openly or brainstorm solutions. If, on the other hand, it is early in the day and you have just cleared the last task off your to-do list, because you might be feeling mentally and emotionally refreshed, you may be open to that new challenge.
One key factor for both the speaker & listener to keep tabs on is their nonverbal communication. According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, when we listen to others, our brain assesses & interprets the incoming information, with only 7% of its interpretation based on the actual words spoken. The remaining 93% is based on non-verbal communication. Dr. Mehrabian further explained that 38% comes from vocal information (speaking style, volume, speed, tone) and 55% from visual information (body language such as head position, facial expressions, hand gestures, arm positioning).
As the speaker, if your words don’t match your tone and body language, the person listening will pay more attention to your body language and tone than your words. Nonverbal communication can make or break trust in work and personal relationships. So, whether you are the speaker or listener, if your body language and tone imply disinterest, dismissiveness, boredom, or distractibility, it is unlikely that potential customers, clients, team members, or friends will trust you. Your words, nonverbals, and actions must align.
If you want to model good listening habits, whether you are listening to team members, your spouse, or your kids, here are some tips to get you started:
Stop what you are doing, look directly at the speaker, & listen without interrupting. Set your viewpoints, biases, and beliefs aside so you can be an objective listener. Have an open body posture, so it is clear that you are open to listening (hint: uncross your arms).
Engage with Empathy
Focus on what the speaker is saying & imagine yourself in their position. Consider the issues from their point of view. Ask open-ended questions for further clarity. What emotions are they conveying?
Seek to understand their viewpoint, perspective & emotion. What is their intention with this communication? What is it they want you to know & understand? What does their body language & tone tell you? Are their nonverbals aligned with their words?
The key to responding is to reply in a way that conveys an understanding of what’s been said. Sometimes, that may mean giving advice, but being an attentive, active listener without judgment is often enough.
Effective listening is one of the most important skills we have both at work and home. Mastering this by observing how you listen and shifting any bad habits (like not paying direct attention to the person speaking) will positively impact all relationships.
This post is republished on Medium.
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