Would you like to improve the level of communication in your workplace? Then try active listening.
Active listening is a structured form of listening and responding that improves overall understanding. Of all the skill sets you can bring into the workplace, active listening is by far the most important. Whether it's engaging in one-on-one conversations, participating in meetings or even interviewing a potential candidate, people who master active listening skills will be more effective in everything they do.
Why? It forces attentiveness. It minimizes defensiveness. Active listening is the foundation of crystal clear understanding. It lends clarity to the conversation and ensures that you understand the message the way that it was intended. It focuses on the speaker, so rather than planning your next remark, you're forced to listen and reflect on the speaker's remark.
So why don't more people do it? Some people don't know how. Others think they don't have the time. Others simply don't care. However, with just a little practice, active listening can be easily mastered. There are two components of active listening - attending and reflecting.
Attending includes eye contact, facial expression, body posture, gestures, distractions, vocal variety and vocal (but non-verbal expressions). Since so much of our communication is non-verbal (visual), it's important that body language is consistent with the verbal message. For example, if you are engaged in a conversation and check your watch from time to time, glance around the room, limit eye contact (or stare) or consistently slouch or tap your foot, you send a message that there are other things more important that the current conversation. The lack of attending prevents effective communication. There is a disconnect between the words and actions.
Reflecting has two skill sets. One is repetition and the other is paraphrasing. Repetition occurs when the listener gives back to the speaker exactly what he or she has said. Paraphrasing puts the speaker's message into the listener's own words and accurately feeds that back to the speaker. Paraphrasing is a more powerful way of reflecting, and lets the speaker know that you truly understand his or her core message. It allows listening with feelings.
Each of us can benefit from better communication in our respective work environments. And with active listening, you're in control. You don't need additional resources, management approval or higher pay. You can take the initiative to build a better communication infrastructure, starting today!
- Lynda Ford
Lynda Ford, author of this article, is a consultant, author and speaker and president of The Ford Group, a management and human resource consulting firm. Her book, Transform Your Workplace, (McGraw-Hill) is available on this website, through amazon.com or bookstores across the country. She can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (315) 339-6398.
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