Here’s the thing. Listening is hard. Yet, listening, or more accurately, active listening is one of the most important skills to learn if you want to have good people skills. And, we make listening harder when most of our communication with others is conducted through a screen. While texting, slacking, emailing, or posting the sad truth is we are only using 7% of our communication arsenal — words. The bottom line to be a good listener we need to see. active listening is also one of the most important skills to learn if you want to have good people skills.
We all know the feeling. A colleague has just entered the room and wandered over to you. They strike up a conversation about their latest project – no doubt a long winded story that will leave you with heavy feet, glazed over eyes, and a pounding head. Before you know it, they leave with the expectation that you not only have heard but absorbed everything they said. Chances are you did hear them but you were not actively listening.
Active Listening is Fundamental to Our People Skills
Active listening is a skill that requires our complete and uninterrupted attention, all our verbal and nonverbal communication skills. And, unfortunately, it requires us to quell our brain’s natural wiring to evaluate input, predict outcomes and make judgments. This is why active listening is the hardest skill to practice. But it is worth the effort.
Active listening is the foundational skill for growing our social intelligence (our people skills). Think of it this way — Active listening helps you understand other people, their opinions and ideas. If you’re not prepared to understand other people, why would you expect them to understand yours? The bottom line, active listeners are better communicators, problem solvers, team players, and leaders.
Practicing Our Listening Skills
There are many ways you can practice active listening. There is the HEAR strategy, an acronym coined by Donna WIlson PhD. It is a mechanism which is broken into four parts: halt, engage, anticipate, and replay. Halt means to stop what you are doing, end your internal dialogue, and free your mind to pay attention. Engage requires you to focus on the speaker and establish eye contact. You Anticipate what you might hear and acknowledge that you might find what is being said interesting or informative. Finally, you Replay what was said by paraphrasing it in your mind. Some experts suggest you should paraphrase what you heard out loud, but if you are not careful this can come across as disingenuous. Another less formal way to practice active listening is by turning off the sound when you are watching a TV show or a movie. Given the importance of facial expressions and body language to the active listening process, how much do you understand when you can’t hear the words?
A study was conducted with business school students who talked about their ability to become a good manager to a pre-assigned “good,” “moderate,” or “poor” listening group. The study found that those with the “poor” listening group could describe their strengths but could barely describe their weaknesses. The study was then applied to actual employees in education, technology, and government. These employees were asked to talk about a colleague, their supervisor, or a meaningful work experience before and after a listening circle (where employees talked openly and honestly about issues and are trained to listen). The study found that employees who participated in the listening circles reported, “lower social anxiety, higher attitude complexity, and lower attitude extremity regarding various work related topics.”
Why Active Listening is a Must Learn Skill
Active listening is a skill that will serve you well in personal relationships, at work, and in your daily life, in general. Salespeople are especially successful when they are active listeners. They can help potential buyers understand them more and can possibly get potential buyers to change their mind about listening to them by repeating what the client is saying and actively listening. A police officer wrote an article about the need to actively listen, saying that if police do not actively listen they may not hear something important about the situation they are policing. When you really think about it, most aspects of life require the type of interaction that makes active listening a necessity.
It should come as no surprise that active listening is a popular ingredient in leadership. For example, Randee Lehrer of Energrowth Coaching LLC, says that active listening “will always save you time in the long run.” It will also show your employees that you care and are not too busy to focus on them. Similarly, Lelia Gowland, who helps women navigate and negotiate careers, also endorses active listening. And a quote in Darling Magazine, from Kristin Vosper sums it all up, “To a digital generation, our undivided attention is the greatest gift we can give each other.”
Start practicing active listening throughout your life, and it is likely you will find success in lots of different ways. Remember, hearing is a gift but listening is a skill.