Active Listening

Active Listening is a foundation skill for teamwork…in fact, scratch that, active listening is a foundation skill for LIFE.

The objective of Active Listening is to fully understand the other person’s perspective and ensure that they know you understand their perspective. Improve your active listening through these practices:

  • Presence
  • Body Language
  • Asking open questions
  • Summarising

Presence

Active Listening starts with Presence. Presence goes beyond physical presence – it is about focusing all your attention on the person speaking. Imagine the laser beam of your consciousness……..fully aimed at the other. Not distracted by the mark on the table, the Facebook post you just received, all the tasks you will have to do tomorrow……..Multitasking is a myth, you are really fast switching.

You can’t fake presence – others immediately know whether you are with them or if your head is in a different place. You aren’t that good an actor.

Living a life when you are fully present goes beyond consulting and business…it is a powerful spiritual practice.

Body Language

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What does someone look like when they are listening? OK, you might not want to signal a submissive nature like this Jack Russell, but your posture will show you are listening. And your posture will also influence your mindset.

You know this stuff intuitively…your body language will say “alert attention” naturally when you are fully present: Leaning forward, making eye contact, smiles, nods and noises of encouragement,  mirroring the other persons posture and gestures.

Asking open questions

So far our listening has been mostly passive. Active listening requires us to participate in the conversation, not just sit there nodding and smiling. Otherwise they can’t be sure that you really understood them.

As an active listener, you will want to ask open questions to encourage them to share their perspective- “why did you choose that?” instead of closed questions with short answers “did you enjoy the trip?”.

The best open questions will build on what the speaker has said, opening new avenues for the speaker to explore and directing their attention in new directions.

See the difference asking questions makes! Although she might have been just faking interest……..

Summarising

In active listening, it is not enough just to understand the other person’s perspective, they need to know that you have understood. The way to do that is to play back to them what they have said in little summaries. They not only feel genuinely listened to and at the same time you can confirm that you understand their perspective.

To summarise well, you need to paraphrase what they have said into your own words. Parroting back exactly what they have said shows that you have a good memory, but does not show that you truly understand their perspective.

Don’t wait until the end for the massive insightful summary of Everything They Have Said (or rather, would have said if they were more thoughtful….). You will have forgotten most of it by then, and it won’t feel natural. Better to do little summaries at natural pauses as you go through the conversation “So, what you are saying is…”, “let me check I got that right……….”

Don’t be too creative in your summary. It is OK to restructure and clarify what they have told you, but wholesale invention of things they should have said won’t achieve the purpose of making them feel listened to.

Final thoughts

Does active listening mean that you agree with the other person?

Not necessarily – remember the objective: To fully understand the other person’s perspective and ensure that they know you understand their perspective. You can still disagree with them afterwards – the critical different is that the other person will feel that they have been heard.

Improve your active listening through being fully present, with engaged body language. Ask open questions, and summarise what you have understood in your own words.

This is not just a teamwork skill. Practice active listening…………with your husband/wife/family/friends as well as at work. You may be surprised with the positive response!

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