Did you know that active listening is actually one of the most effective communication skills? It empowers us to build more constructive relationships with our people which leads to better overall performance.
Communication is not just about talking, messaging, presenting, etc. We spend around 45% of our communication time listening while only 30% speaking, 16% reading and 9% writing.
Unfortunately, 75% of our listening time we’re distracted, preoccupied or forgetful.
Here are some of the most common poor listening habits:
1 Preparing a response instead of listening
This is probably the most common mistake. Thinking about our response while they’re still talking might have different reasons. We might think we know where they’re going to say, we might not have time for them, or we get angry or annoyed and want to jump to defence. However, this habit not only causes us to miss out on what they really want to say, but it might also show disrespect and impatience.
2 Faking attention
I would say we are all guilty of pretending we are present while we are actually in another world with our thoughts. Our intention is not bad as we aim not to make that person feel rejected by smiling and nodding while we have no clue what they talk about. It usually works for a short time before we get caught.
3 Allowing disruptions
Because listening requires both emotional and physical effort, we often tend to welcome disruptions, especially in difficult conversations. Have you ever been in a situation where you expect the full attention of your counterpart, but they keep getting ‘important calls’ that they will ‘just quickly answer, sorry not sorry’? Did that come across as if they respected and valued you and your time?
We all have some sort of prejudices and perceptions of people based on their appearance, dress code, mannerisms, way of speaking, accents etc. In fact, various statistics show that we form an opinion of others within 60 seconds of meeting them, sometimes even in 2-3 seconds. The more we get to know someone, the more we create an image of them in our mind. We choose who to listen to depending on the way we view them, and if what they have to say is valuable to us and meets our standards.
5 Failing to listen beyond spoken words
Body language, gestures and facial expressions often tell us more about what people are really trying to say. In fact, 55% of the meaning is derived from nonverbal elements, 38% through tones and sounds, and only 7% through the actual words spoken. You may miss how important something is to someone or how stressed they really are about an issue. Looking beyond the words will allow us to hear the feelings that are attached to what they say. If your team member is telling you how something is not working for them, you noticing that there is more to it might even prevent them from leaving you.
Part of our challenge to listen are the different speeds at which we process words. We normally speak about 120 to 200 words per minute, while our minds process thousands of words per minute.
That means that on average, we think 13 words per one word we listen to!
Being aware of this challenge is the first step to improve our active listening skills and use those 13 words towards our conversations not against.
I suggest the following techniques to make a huge difference in our overall communication skills:
1 Don’t be afraid of a pause
It is ok to process what they said after they have finished. Then, either ask follow-up questions like ‘what did you mean by…?’ or brief statements that give you time to think, like ‘I have not seen it this way before’. That shows that you have listened to them.
2 Be Present
Avoid mental and external distractions and find something that you’re interested in what they are saying. If you really cannot focus, ask them how urgent it is as you’ve got a lot on your mind.
3 Question your perceptions
I’ve learned over the years that if I think I know it all, there is always more. There is always more to the story of a person than we know. We need to listen with our ears, eyes and minds to find out what they’re really about.
4 Ask reflective questions
I’ve mentioned this in the first point, but it deserves another one. Say something like ‘what I hear is…is that what you meant?’. Or when you have another point of view say ‘have you thought about it this way…?’
5 Relate to the speaker
Find common ground in the topic even if there are essential disagreements. Agree to disagree. Approve that you hear them and where they are coming from and then explain your side. End the conversation with an agreement.
Applying these techniques will help you to become a better active listener, a more effective communicator and therefore a better leader.
Let me know how it is working for you. Would love to chat!