Active listening

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw.

Schools and businesses spend a lot of time teaching us how to communicate effectively. That is, they teach us how to craft our message so that others understand what we are trying to tell them. The truth is, that's only 50% of communication. The other 50% is listening. Listening is a skill that is rarely taught. Infact, when you are having a conversation, how much time do you spend formulating how you are going to respond versus just listening to the other person? If you are like most people, the majority of the time you aren't talking in a conversation you are thinking about what you are going to say when it is your turn to talk.

This is where "active listening" comes in. It is the (learn-able) skill of fully listening to the other person when they are talking. By practicing active listening you can:
  • Reduces conflict caused by mis-understandings.
  • Saves time because everyone is on the same page about a task.
  • Expands your knowledge as you actually hear new information.
  • Strengthens relationships making it easier to work together.
Active listening is actually one of the critical skills that FBI hostage negotiators use as well.

Here are 5 tips to help you improve your active listening skills:
  1. Paraphrase. Restate what the speaker has said in your own words. You can only do this if you have been fully listening. Its also a great way to make sure you have fully understood what the other person has said. You can use phrases like "What I hear you saying is...", or "Do you mean...?"

  2. Show you are listening. Make eye contact. Nod at appropriate times. Make sure the person talking knows you are actively listening.

  3. Ask questions. This provides an opportunity for clarification, it ensures understanding and it also assures the speaker that you are listening.

  4. Avoid interrupting. Let the person talking complete their thought before you try to respond. Do not try to second-guess where the speaker’s thoughts are going. When the speaker is finished, you will know it!

  5. Don't over talk. Although talking may be fun, and silence may be uncomfortable for some, you cannot talk and listen at the same time. You always learn more by listening than you ever could by talking. Let the other person talk more than you. 
I encourage you to set yourself a challenge of trying one of these techniques a day for the next week and see how it changes your conversations and relationships.