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Listen to understand

In every article we read or subject taught around the art of good communication; three core pillars are mentioned - Speaking, Listening and Body language. Effectively listening is one of the most challenging skills in communication and it appears as if we are getting worse at listening. Whether it’s because we live in a loud world with distractions at every turn or we are simply too tired to bother or we think we already know what is being said… either way, we’re missing the point!

Miscommunication is created by a delay in what you hear and what you understand about what you just heard – the longer that delay is the easier it is to become distracted and divert your attention to an inner conversation – then switch off your listening skills. This delay between listening and hearing someone is caused by your own personal thoughts and opinions about the topic being discussed, it’s called a confirmation bias. We tend to focus on the ideas that we already agree with and ignore the rest. So we listen for what we want to hear.

We also become distracted by the activity around us, or own body language (uncomfortable chair), or we simply respond emotionally to the speaker’s tone of voice, accent or gestures.

So how do we listen with a view to UNDERSTAND rather than listening with a view to respond?

First off in order to understand what someone else is saying, you must assume that their answer/experience is true. Many of us apply this principle in reverse, we assume that the other person is misguided and set about to putting them straight – an argument follows and communication breaks down. This is referred to as competitive listening!

So where do we start in listening proactively:

  • Remove distractions, put your phone down, mute the tv;

  • Open your mind, don’t judge - just listen;

  • Allow the speaker to complete their thought, and pause before you reply. Think about what you want to say next;

  • Avoid jumping to conclusions and interrupting the speaker;

  • Try to look directly at the speaker to ensure your attention is undivided, this eye contact confirms for the speaker that he/she is being heard;

  • Don’t pretend to be on the same page when actually you haven’t a clue what was said – Ask for an explanation, paraphrase back to them what you understood – wait for clarification;

  • Remove thought from your listening vocabulary and make the effort to know;

  • Be present – focus on the moment at hand, pay attention, allow yourself to hear.

Learning to listen more effectively means you value others opinions more than your own. Proactive listening informs us about what was actually said and what we have understood whereas passive listening informs us about what we think we heard.

Understanding another‘s viewpoint extends our experience of other people, it allows for engaging conversation where we feel heard and acknowledged and this ultimately leads to better stronger relationships between individuals.

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