Are you an effective listener?
A lot of times, when someone at work makes a mistake, it is generally agreed that a communication error has occurred. But whose fault was it? Was it the fault of the person giving instructions? Or was it the fault of the individual who did not understand – or failed to properly listen to – the instructions?
Let us take a look at an example. Bill is a manager at a technology company. For an individual with a high executive position, he has all the skills one might expect. Whenever anyone talks to Bill, he gives off all the signs of an active listener. He looks directly in to the individual’s eyes, nods his head at appropriate moments, and says “uh huh” every now and then, again at appropriate moments. But what nobody knows about Bill is the fact that he actually rarely, if ever, listens to what other people tell him.
Of course, Bill is not likely to get very far in his profession. This is because he does not realize that there is a difference between hearing what someone says and really listening to them. And chances are, one of these days, other people are going to figure Bill out. When that day comes, the repercussions can be very grave indeed.
How do I become a better listener?
The best way to improve your listening skills – and therefore greatly enhance your professional career – is to learn some of the common behaviors that individuals tend to display when they are not listening in an effective manner. As we review barriers to effective listening, you should keep in mind that not all of these barriers are bad all the time. In certain situations, such barriers can be employed to enable you to attain certain results. The key to effective listening strategies is to know when and where to employ them.
Rehearsing, Judging, Identifying and Advising
When we rehearse, we give off signs that we are listening to what the other person is saying, when in fact our minds are a mile away. Instead of listening, we are rehearsing in our minds what we are going to say next. Some people mentally rehearse whole conversations based on what they believe the other person’s response to be. This is incredibly counter productive, because there are always instances when we cannot predict what will be said – and they we are caught red handed, not having listened to what the person really wanted to say.
Judging is also counterproductive. When we form a negative judgment of someone based on immediate first impressions, chances are great that we are not going to listen to what they have to tell us. When it comes to judgment, we should save it until after we have listened to and evaluated what the person has to say. Judgment should always come after – never before.
Then there is identification. When we identify with someone, we always relate what he or she have to say to personal experiences of our own, never allowing them to explain how they, personally, feel about the situation. People guilty of identification are those who frequently interrupt others’ stories before they get a chance to finish in order to tell their own. Suffice to say, this can be quite annoying!
Other people who frequently interrupt are advisers. These are people who think of themselves as wonderful problem solvers, who only need to hear a few sentences before they interrupt and begin giving advice. The problem is, when you interrupt someone, you frequently miss the most important part of the story that they are attempting to convey.
Sparring, Being Right, Derailing and Placating
People guilty of sparring are those who never even bother listening to what the person has to say. They are automatically looking for something to disagree with, and just want to argue for the sake of arguing.
Then there are those who feel they are right over time. These individuals never listen to anything, unless it is somehow in their interest. Such individuals are never able to accept criticism of any sort, and are very reluctant to change.
The listening barricade known as derailing takes place when the listener suddenly changes the subject. When you get bored with a particular topic or uncomfortable with the subject matter, you may try to change it abruptly. Derailers will often employ jokes as a means of changing the subject of the conversation – without having really listened to what the speaker was trying to say.
Those guilty of placating are those who, like Bill above, pretend to be listening all the time, but are really only listening half way in order to get the basic drift. This presents a major communication barrier, and ultimately results in people like Bill being ignored forever by those who might be able to help him get ahead in life!