Happy New Year! As we prepare to enter into the new year it’s a common time to reflect on the past and create new goals. Some vow to lose weight then purchase that new gym membership. Some commit to getting out of debt. Many people promise to being kinder to others. And the list goes on. I hope you'll agree that it’s very important to set annual goals and take action steps to attain them. So here’s a goal you may not have thought of that may be needed. How about committing to be a better listener in 2019?
How much do you retain when you listen? How many conflicts could have been avoided if you simply listened to the other person? Studies suggest that people typically only remember about half of what they heard immediately after listening to another person...and that’s when the problems start.
Listening can be a tough communication skill to master, especially in a loud world with many distractions. Fortunately, you can use the “active listening” method to improve your listening skills, much like you would practice public speaking or writing skills.
When you enter a conversation as an active listener, you create greater understanding with others and build stronger relationships. Active listening can help you improve oral communication and interpersonal skills. These skills have a direct effect on how well you meet your customers’ needs and contribute to your organization’s mission.
Building these six active listening skills can help you master the art of listening in 2019.
1. Be Present
Be present in the conversation. Start by putting yourself in a learning mindset, instead of coming to the conversation with the goal of sharing your own viewpoints. Allow the speaker to complete his or her thoughts without interrupting. My wife often tells me to pay attention to my body language. And she’s absolutely right! When you maintain eye contact, lean in towards the speaker, and nod your head, you show the speaker that he or she has your full attention. Symbolic acts like putting your phone away or closing out of your email prevent distraction and show the speaker you are engaged.
2. Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes
Keep in mind that the person you are speaking with may have a different perspective than you do. Practice putting yourself in the speaker’s place as you listen to his or her viewpoint. When your opinion is different from the speaker’s, seek only to understand, rather than to offer your perspective. You’ll not only show respect for the speaker, but you’ll also take in new information that will help you better understand his or her point of view.
3. Check Your Understanding
Throughout the conversation, find appropriate times to confirm that you understand what the speaker is saying. You can do this by paraphrasing what the speaker has said in both message and emotion. For example, try using statements like “It sounds like you have concerns about…” or “What I’m hearing from you is… Is that correct?” Then, give the speaker the opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings. This exercise forces you to pay close attention to the speaker’s words and signals that you understand his or her point of view.
4. Ask Clarifying Questions
Use open-ended questions to gain a better understanding of anything that is unclear. For example, instead of asking the speaker “Did you already try the new process?” try asking “What are your thoughts about the new process?” Open-ended questions – rather than leading questions or those that only require a yes or no answer – help you get more information and clear up any confusing points.
Capture the themes of the conversation by putting key ideas into broad statements. For example, in a conversation with a coworker, say “You’ve made good points about our meetings. They need to be shorter and follow a more consistent structure.” Summarizing ensures you and the speaker are on the same page about what has been discussed.
6. Add Input at the Right Time
The final step in active listening is sharing your own point of view. However, choose carefully when and how to add input. The best time to share your suggestions is after the speaker has come to a stopping point and you understand his or her point of view. That way, you can represent your perspective while also identifying where you share common ground. Ultimately, this will help you and the speaker work together effectively.
Throughout 2019 resolve to improve your listening and communication skills by following these simple reminders.
I pray your 2019 is full of peace, joy, and abundant blessings.