Improving Your Active Listening Skills – Part 3

Improving Your Active Listening Skills – Part 3

Avoid “me” stories – These happen when a speaker says something that triggers a memory of something similar in your own experience. Then you are just waiting for them to shut up so you can share. This can be disastrous for communication because as soon as the speaker ends their sentence, you jump in and take over. “Me” stories normally begin with “Yeah, that’s just like me …” Phrased in such a way, the listener has justified their interjection by linking their circumstances with the speaker’s. However, such stories are little more than an opportunity to talk about your favorite subject: yourself. They may also end up taking the conversation so far off-topic that the original intent  is lost. Keep your stories to yourself, unless the speaker specifically asks if you have experienced a similar situation because they genuinely want to know how you handled it.

Don’t be scared of silence – Active listening requires that you take time to absorb what you have heard, analyze it, and then respond. Commenting instantly may give the impression that you have been formulating your response when you should have been listening. You may also be coming in too early. The speaker may only have paused to clarify their thoughts before speaking again, and may need that silence to think. Be assured that if they do want you to speak, they will let you know. They may ask: “What do you think?” or “What would you do?”

Practice emotional intelligence – This is all about being aware of your emotions and opinions. As much as your emotions can aid active listening by creating empathy, they can also hamper communication if they cause you to disagree with the speaker. This can clearly produce negative results if you start an argument, but it can also be detrimental even if you keep your counsel and say nothing. Having negative thoughts about what you are being told will work against your ability to actively listen, and you will almost certainly transmit this to the speaker in your body language. You can combat this problem by being more emotionally intelligent. This means accepting that the feelings you have could, if you let them, affect your listening abilities, and then deciding to keep them under wraps, at least until the speaker has said all they want to say.

Take notes – Although this may make you appear like a psychiatrist, jotting down a few key words can really help. This counters the need to interrupt for fear of forgetting, and provides a reference for once the speaker has finished so that you know you will be able to address the pertinent issues. Some people may want to speak at length without interruptions, and even the most attentive and active listener will then struggle to recall all the details they wanted to comment on. This tactic obviously has more relevance in formal and business situations. It might be policy to ask whether the speaker minds you scribbling a little as they speak, and to explain the purpose of doing so.

Check your understanding – This is a good way to focus your thoughts on listening, to demonstrate to the speaker that you really are listening, to help clarify the listener’s thoughts, and to make sure that you genuinely do understand. This is a matter of asking clarification questions when appropriate, and may involve restating part of what you have heard. You may start off with: “So I am right in thinking …” or “Let me just clarify …” or “So are you saying …”

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