The Benefits of Active Listening

Active Listening

I spent long hours learning to read and write and even had classroom training in public speaking, however I never had a lesson in listening or thought of listening as a learnable skill until I entered the world of business as an adult. As many trainers, including myself, have come to understand, listening is a learnable skill. Unfortunately, it is not typically taught with other communication skills at home or in school. In the seminars that I have facilitated I have noticed many of the participants experience difficulty conveying their thoughts and desires to others, asking appropriate questions, and trouble voicing their opinions. One of the keys to getting along with others is to have highly developed communication skills. When it comes to great speakers versus good listeners, only 18% of the population would prefer to speak to a great speaker. The other 82% prefers to speak to a good listener. So, the best way to get along with others is to listen to what they have to say. By ‘listen’ I mean what is called ‘active listening.’ Active listening means you are fully engaged, not distracted. You carefully weigh the communication and ask for clarification where necessary and encourage the person you’re with to speak freely and express interest in what is being said.

The Many Benefits of Active Listening Include:

1. It builds stronger relationships. (Trust and respect)
2. It makes it easier to resolve problems.
3. It creates a safe environment to collaborate in problem solving.

Active listening is an essential skill as it enables the listener to receive and accurately interpret the speaker’s message, and then being able to provide an appropriate response.

Here’s an example from my experience being in Japan. I have lived in Japan for seven years and am married to a Japanese citizen. My wife is from Tokyo and speaks standard (Tokyo) Japanese when she is with me. When I met her father for the first time, I couldn’t understand a word he said because his dialect (Sendai prefecture) was completely foreign to me. Yet, after a thirty minute conversation, my father-in-law was surprised at my ability to understand every word he said. How did this miracle take place?

Well, although I didn’t understand the words he spoke, his body language and tonality revealed his feelings, which quickly changed with each story he told me. So all I did was remain in sync with his feelings by interjecting generic phrases to show I understood. At the appropriate time, I threw in expressions such as, “oh, I see. Really? I understand how you feel. That’s surprising. Oh, that’s interesting.”

Some Barriers to Active Listening Include:

1. Anticipating what is going to be said instead of being open to what is being said.
2. Paying too much attention to what is being said, rather, than how it is said.
3. Seeking confirmation of your preconceived ideas, rather than new information.

The Response

Another principle of communication is the response you get. It is not the words we use, however the response we receive that determines whether our communication is successful. After my first conversation with my father-in-law, as soon as we left he informed all family members and friends about my excellent fluency, making me a welcomed guest everywhere. The response I received made my communication successful. The response is an integral part of the listening process and can be critical to the success of a negotiation or business meetings.

Tips on Improving Your Active Listening Skills Include:

1. Ask questions
2. Encourage elaboration
3. Listen empathetically
4. Give feedback to check your understanding
5. Be accepting and nonjudgmental
6. Pay attention. Don’t let your mind wander
7. Maintain eye contact
8. Don’t jump to conclusions
9. Remain open-minded
10. Don’t finish your counterpart’s sentence.
11. Check your understanding by paraphrasing and summarizing what you think was said.

Think of people as closed treasure chests. It is only by openly engaging with them that they open up. The ability to listen with empathy may be the most important attribute of people who succeed in gaining the trust and cooperation of others.

Joseph Hull, MBA, PMP

This page is also available in: Japanese

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