Do you listen or are you just waiting to talk?
In my last Blog (“That’s not what I meant…”) I discussed some important aspects of how you communicate. One I touched on was listening. This is such a big part of communication it merits its own Blog. Here I will discuss Active Listening, what it is and what it actually looks and feels like.
During my rugby career a great emphasis was placed on communication. However the vast majority of this was on talking and very little on listening. What’s the point of encouraging everybody to talk if nobody is listening? As an executive coach listening has become even more important for me. As a coach a major skill is how you listen. As mentioned last time, this is not just about what is said but using emotional intelligence to really understand meaning, through how it is being said, and the body language accompanying the words.
What is ‘Active Listening’?
“Wise men speak when they have something to say. Fools because they have to say something”. Plato
Too often people “listen” impatiently whilst waiting for their turn to speak. They are not paying attention. Irrespective of what has been said, they want to make their point. It can be so frustrating and really devalues a conversation. Instead, Active Listening encourages you to hear what is said and base your response accordingly, rather than waiting so that you can speak.
5 Active Listening Techniques
1. Show you are listening
Engage with the person, look at them, nod your head, make the occasional “Yes”, “Uh huh”, “Ok”, “I see” and so on. Take up a non threatening pose. And most importantly, don’t fidget, play with your phone, check emails or generally look disinterested. Furthermore, as soon as there is a pause don’t think that’s your cue and interrupt.
This can involve subtly copying body posture, leaning forward when they do etc. However it can also be repeating the last word or phrase in the form of a question. This is completely non-directional yet it can elicit more information and get the other person to think about what they have said. It also gives you an opportunity to gain greater clarity in what has been said.
An open question is one that can not be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. How, When, Where and What questions. Why should be avoided if possible as they lead to opinion and judgement that can close down communication.
Such questions provide opportunity to speak and implies interest in the conversation and the other people participating in it.
Pick up on the Emotion.
This involves looking at body language, and listening to tone as well as the content of what is said. It can be beneficial to comment on it. “You sound…” You are not saying how somebody is feeling, rather how they sound that they are feeling. Even if wrong, the person will correct you, and they generally appreciate the attempt. This is not a technique to be used all the time, however it can be powerful and shows a greater depth of listening.
Power of Silence
When listening remaining silent can be very powerful. Generally people do not like silence. If you don’t fill it then the other person probably will. It is amazing how often in my short coaching career this is where the really valuable information has come out.
It’s good to talk. It’s even better to listen.
Communication has changed dramatically with email, mobile phones, social media etc. This has also led to many of us neglecting the basic skills. A key basic is listening, giving the person speaking their moment and genuinely taking in what they are saying and how they are saying it. In any environment active listening will enhance the situation for all concerned. Especially in a work scenario, this helps a team gain clarity on what their roles and responsibilities are and improves effectiveness. If you have actively listened it allows for a greater discussion around a subject that can lead to better understanding to move forward.
Thanks to Quantum Coaching for some of the information provided in this Blog.
Colin is an Executive Coach and Performance Consultant. He is currently completing his Postgraduate Certificate in Executive Coaching. He works in a one to one environment or with teams to improve performance.