Every time we talk about listening I have to admit to my students that this is a skill that I am still working on personally. The first reminder is that we listen to either learn, understand, or for enjoyment. What we hear and then remember is less than you might think (there is no real scientific studies on this that I could find) some saying 10% and others up to 50%. I believe either of these numbers may be high for some people. Is it any wonder that we have misunderstandings, rifts in relationships and directions that are not followed through on?
It is most likely that you have heard of “active listening”, as it is taught by most leadership instructors and talked about by most counselors. This is when you not only hear the words the other person is saying, but you get the message they are sending to you. Occasionally nodding your head or other gestures lets them know that you are still involved in the conversation. There is more!
Putting aside your own thoughts, how you might present a rebuttal, why this person is wrong allows us the mental capacity to listen, not just to their words, but their body language too. Your goal is to get the whole message and feeling that this person is trying to get across to you. Being able to respond in a way that shows empathy and understanding of the persons thoughts and feelings can only happen if you hear the words and emotions as shown in the whole person.
It is very easy to discourage the speaker from telling their story with your body language, by giving attention to others in the room, or if you are not encouraging them with small verbal comments or even a question or two, showing your interest in understanding. In the end you may want to ask questions to be sure the meaning of their words matches the meaning that you heard. Before asking those kind of questions though, give the speaker the opportunity to complete their thought – otherwise they may lose their thought process.
These listening skills are appropriate for the workplace, for spouses and for children. No matter the speaker, we want to feel like we were heard and responded to respectfully. When we do not get that feeling, it is very easy to shut down or not tell the whole story. The process of listening takes a lot of concentration and determination. Old habits are hard to break, but doing so will strengthen your ability to be a leader and all of your relationships.