Active Listening : Basic Managerial Skills; V3 Issue 4

Active listening is essentially effective listening. It is not just passive hearing ie., hearing only the words that a person is saying. Active listening is trying to understand the total message ie., the content and the intent by paying attention to what is left unsaid as much as what is being said, the body language, the tone of voice, inflections, volume etc. As a manager active listening helps significantly in soliciting better information from others and in understanding, responding and influencing others in a positive way. To help you listen actively and in turn improve your productivity, listed below are some tips.

Tips for Active Listening

Pay undivided attention: Most individuals speak at the rate of 175 to 200
      words per minute but are capable of listening and processing words at the
      rate of 600 to 1,000 words per minute. So, quite often while listening, you
      may start thinking about a task or start framing a response to what the
      person is saying etc. Instead put aside distracting thoughts and focus on
      giving the speaker your complete attention. Look at the speaker and avoid
      being distracted by environmental factors.

Do not talk: Though this may seem obvious many people listen with
      impatience. They are just waiting for their chance to speak or they interrupt

  Demonstrate that you are listening: Show the speaker you are listening by nodding your head. Maintain eye contact with the person. Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention. Lean forward and do not use your hands to play with things. Smile or use other appropriate facial expressions. Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like “yes”, and “uh huh”. Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically. 

Defer judgment: Avoid early evaluations when listening to a person with whom you disagree. When listeners begin to disagree with a sender's message, they tend to misinterpret the remaining information and distort its intended meaning so that it is consistent with their own beliefs. Interrupting with counter arguments can frustrate the speaker and limits full understanding of the message for the listener. So allow the speaker to finish. Be open and don’t just search for a point that supports your own opinions. Be willing to gain new insights and learn about someone else’s ideas.

Don’t get defensive: Don’t take what another person says personally when what he or she is saying is not meant to be personal. Even if you do not agree with what the speaker is saying, avoid defensive statements or phrases that argue with his or her points. There is time for that later. As an active and effective listener, your role is first to give the person the time and space to fully express his or her feelings

Paraphrase: Paraphrasing is putting into your own words what you thought you heard and saying it to the sender.Paraphrasing by saying “What I’m hearing is…” and “Sounds like you are saying…” are great ways to reflect back. For example, when your subordinate states that “You have promoted Simmy over me. I can do the job better than her”, you can paraphrase by saying “I think you are upset about not being promoted and you feel I have been unfair while making the promotion recommendation”. Paraphrasing clarifies to the sender that his or her message was correctly received and encourage him/her to expand on what he or she is trying to communicate.

Ask questions: Ask questions to clarify certain points or to obtain additional information. Ask open-ended questions like “What do you mean when you say…” “What kind of problems are you facing?” They require the speaker to convey more information. Questions should be framed in a way that makes it clear you have not yet drawn any conclusions.This will assure the speaker that you are interested in obtaining more and better information. The more informationthat you have as a listener, the better you can respond to the speaker's communication.

 Listen for feelings:When listening, focus not only on the words but also on the way they are being said. Observe the speaker’s body language. The way a speaker is standing, the tone of voice and inflection he or she is using, and what the speaker is doing with his or her hands are all part of the message that is being sent. A person who raises his or her voice is probably either angry or frustrated.

    Respond appropriately: Be candid, open, and honest in your response. Assert your opinions respectfully. Sometimes people just want you to listen so that they can work out the problem themselves. The moment the problem is stated don’t suggest solutions.