FACT: Poor listening skills cost our companies millions of dollars each year.

FACT: Good listening skills are one of our greatest assets for successful relationships, negotiations and conflict resolution.

This month we want to briefly explore our own listening skills and what can be done to improve them. First, let’s look at some definitions that we need to make sure we understand properly:

  1. Hearing: The act of perceiving a sound by ear.
  2. Listening: Truly trying to understand another person’s point of view.

Notice the difference?

It is one thing to hear, it is entirely different to listen. Hearing happens passively, listening requires an active choice we make.

“Seek first to understand, then be understood,” is a great motto by which to live. But there are risks that are associated with this and can become road blocks to truly listening. Why are people so hesitant to listen attentively? Three main reasons:

  • It will be perceived as agreement, even if no agreement exists;
  • They’ll learn something that shows their own perspective was incomplete or inaccurate; and
  • They won’t get a chance for their own point of view to be heard.

So we try to convince the other side of our side. People will finish your sentence, won’t allow you to build upon a thought without interruption and ultimately they will be thinking of a reply long before your thought is completely communicated. So think about your listening skills and ask if they need to be improved. Rather than ask yourself, ask your immediate family, your co-workers or your best friend. Let them be the real test for you. If you could improve, here are some ways to improve:

  1. Listen for understanding, not evaluation. Focus on what the speaker is trying to communicate and shut off your internal judge.
  2. Ask open-ended questions. This will force you to listen to an answer other than a “yes” or a “no.”
  3. Verbalize your listening. Give your responses back by agreeing with them, nodding your head and providing permission for them to continue.
  4. Paraphrase what they just said. This is the best way to communicate back to the person you are talking to that you understood what they just said. “This is what I just heard” is a great way to, not only show your interest, but also make sure you understood what was just said.

Finally, let’s look at some of the things that we are not to do as we listen:

  1. Don’t interrupt. Hold your comments until the person to whom you are speaking is finished.
  2. Don’t offer your two cents unless asked.
  3. Don’t be a one-ups-man! When they are sharing their story, don’t reply with, “Oh, you think that is bad, well let me tell you about my situation …” Listen with empathy.
  4. And finally, don’t do two things at once. When you are engaged in a conversation with another individual, don’t watch a computer screen, look out the window or watch people go by your office. Provide them with the decency of looking at them in the eyes.

So, if you want to learn more about this, I can send you a test to see where you are in your listening skills and how to improve personally. Now, what did he just say?

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