Communication Skills: Listening
Communication is a two-way street and isn't just about getting your message across. It's also important to understand what other people are saying to you. Think of it this way: if you're speaking, you want people to pay attention to you. If your listener was yawning, fidgeting or looking bored while you were speaking, do you think they're really listening to what you are saying? How would that make you feel? Treat others as you would want to be treated, so when someone is speaking to you, listen to what they have to say.
To show that you are listening, use nonverbal signals that indicate you’re engaged. Make frequent eye contact and use verbal cues or nodding to show that you’re following the conversation. Ask questions or repeat/paraphrase what you’ve heard to indicate that you're paying attention. Watch your body language; use "open" body language; don’t cross your arms or slouch ("closed" body language). Good posture is a way of conveying alertness, and it indicates that you’re paying attention. Effective listening techniques include:
- Avoid distractions - put your phone on silent, switch off the radio or TV, turn away from the computer. Give the speaker your attention.
- Make eye contact - but don't stare! Look away now and again, but make sure your focus is on the speaker
- Keep an open mind - stay impartial; don't make assumptions or form judgements
- Watch for cues - changes in volume, tone and pitch, as well as non-verbal clues such as facial expressions and gestures, can help you better understand what is being said and why it is being said, as well as give you insight into the speaker's mood.
- Validate the speaker - even if you don't agree with what is being said, acknowledge that you have been listening. Use nods and "yeahs" "uh-huhs" or other words indicating agreement to show that you're paying attention
- Empathise - try to put yourself in the shoes of the speaker - why are they saying what they are saying?
- Don't interrupt - it's rude!
- Paraphrase what was said - when the speaker has finished, in your own words repeat what the speaker has said to show that you understand what they were saying.
- Clarify - if you're not sure what they're saying, ask questions. Don't just barge in though, indicate that you want to speak or wait until they're finished speaking.