Have you ever stopped someone in the middle of a conversation and asked, “Are you listening to me?” And even though the person with whom you were speaking responded, “I heard what you said,” all the signals indicated to you that they had become disconnected from the conversation?
Whether we are conducting a training needs analysis, directing a performance consulting process, or managing subordinates, we need to make sure we are not only hearing what is being said, but we are truly listening as well. The difference, according to Webster, is that hearing is the act or process of perceiving sound or of receiving information whereas listening is the act of hearing attentively and paying attention to the person speaking.
Verbal communication has four forms: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The average person spends 70 to 80% of their active hours (11 to 12 hrs per day) communicating with others. The two forms of verbal communication we use most often are listening and speaking. Is it any surprise that these are the areas where we have the most difficulty?
Whenever we are involved with a training needs analysis, a performance consulting process, or managing subordinates, we really must communicate clearly and be prepared to be non-judgmental. Some things we can do to help with communication are:
Greet the person by name and clearly state the purpose of the meeting. Use clear, concise, and common language, and solicit any questions before you start.
Put yourself in the other person’s place or position. The issue you are discussing is real to them – and may be quite different from your own.
Be patient. Sometimes a little rambling reveals a big reward. We know what we want to accomplish and while the other person may not take the same road, we can usually get to the same destination.
Don’t Jump to Conclusions
Until we have all the facts from the speaker and can validate our suspicions, all we have is basic information with no clear path to an immediate destination.
Don’t Judge the Speaker
Just because the person isn’t providing the answers that we expect, doesn’t consider him or her to be out of touch, misinformed, or a loser. The speaker may be giving you all the information he or she has and this can be an indication that other problems may exist.
Let them see the list of questions prior to the session, use more open questions than closed. We want them to talk.
Pay Attention to Your Non-Verbal Behavior
Make eye contact. Look at them for a while then glance at your notes then look back at them. Remember, you’re not trying to make them feel uncomfortable – just engaged. Maintain a pleasant and relaxed facial expression. Try to mirror the demeanor of the person you are talking to. Be aware of your posture – lean toward the person when they are responding but avoid violating their personal space.
Don’t Forget Active Listening Skills
Paraphrasing, reflection of feelings, use of encouragers, and summarizing.
One of my favorite quotes (by the prolific author, ‘anonymous’) is, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” This is true for the messages we are sending as well as those we are receiving during the communication process. By practicing some, or all, of the tips in this blog, you may find you never have to ask the question, “Are you listening to me?” again because you will know that the answer is “YES”.