Terrible and terrific listeners – which are you?
We listen most of the time; breathing is the only thing we do more often.
Most of us take listening for granted but how well do we do it?
We may hear, but not listen; there’s a profound contrast between them...
Good listening makes all the difference in the ability to build honest, enduring relationships. Poor listening can do great damage, especially if you half-listen or flatly refuse to listen at all!
Poor listening is the chief cause of misunderstandings and misunderstandings cause conflict.
So with all the pressures and stresses of the day, how well do you listen to those who want your ear?
Three Steps to Better Listening:
1. Know your listening blocks
Listening blocks express themselves in thoughts which affect how you listen.
The first step towards becoming a better listener and communicator is to recognise what gets in the way when you listen. Here are 10 commonly expressed obstacles:
- I don’t like the look of him/her.
- I can tell he/she doesn’t like me.
- He/she was so rude to me last week, I don’t see why I should listen to them.
- What a ridiculous way of looking at things.
- I’m not going to like this.
- He/she never listens to me.
- Get a move on, I’ve got a lot to do.
- I’m completely lost; what are they on about?
- This has no relevance to me whatsoever.
- I’ve heard it all before.
Do you identify with any of these?
Most of us don’t listen at 100% all of the time; indeed, it would be totally draining to do so. To cope with the sheer volume of ‘noise’ that surrounds us, we need to find ways to:
- Cut some of the negative parroting.
- Get down to the business of listening.
Our listening can be affected if we dislike the speaker, or feel bored by their style of delivery, or expect we won't like what they have to say.
2. Be aware of your poor listening behaviours
The second step is to be aware of your poor listening behaviours so you can put a stop to them.
Terrible listening: quick quiz
Here’s a quick quiz to identify a few poor listening practices.
- Do you multi-task (e.g. tap on your PC, read the paper or pour the coffee) when you're supposed to be listening?
- Do you drift into daydreams as the speaker gets going?
- Do you turn the conversation back to yourself?
- If the speaker is slow, do you dive in and finish their sentences for them?
- Do you judge, moralise, criticise and make remarks like "that was an odd thing to say?"
- If the speaker is unclear, do you lose patience and switch off?
- Do you tell people what they 'should' do, say or think and offer your "advice" even when they haven't asked for it?
What other poor practices are you aware of?
Terrific listening: Quick quiz
Here are eight great listening practices. Place a tick against all that you do. Keep doing them - they'll serve you well.
- Can you listen without constantly interrupting?
- Do you concentrate on the speaker's needs and feelings rather than turning the conversation back to your own?
- Do you occasionally summarise what is said to check you've understood?
- Do you give encouragement to the speaker through your body language, responding appropriately by smiling, nodding and giving good eye contact?
- Can you say politely if you don't understand and seek clarification?
- Do you ask appropriate, open questions like "what happened next?", "How will you handle x and y?' to find out more & encourage them to resolve difficulties themselves.
- Can you hear someone out, even when you disagree?
- Can you avoid moralising, being judgemental or offering advice, unless your advice is specifically called for?
How well did you do? How good a listener are you?
3. Create a Plan of Action
If you are honest with yourself in answering the quiz questions, you will be able to make your individual action plan to help you become a better listener.
- Quiz 1: Put an immediate stop to your worst listening habits. If you've got lots of bad habits, work on quitting 1 or 2 a week. Ask someone you trust to give you feedback on the changes you make.
- Quiz 2: Continue to practise all your great listening habits. Identify other habits you'd like to adopt and make a point of introducing them, one per week. Ask someone you trust to give you feedback on how you're doing.
Listening is the key to great communication.
If you want to be a better communicator, have you thought about the origin and true meaning of the word?
It stems from the Latin ‘communis’ which means shared understanding which in turn helps us see the true value of really listening.
Great communication involves assertiveness and confidence. Developing your listening skills can help both these attributes.
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