It is often quoted that we have two ears and only one mouth. Therefore, we should listen twice as much as we speak. However, many of us find this quality difficult to master. Just ask us, we will be happy to tell you all about it.
The ability to listen ranks high on most lists of skills employers desire in employees. In addition, listening is critical when learning on the job, which is another skill which ranks high with employers.
Effective listening habits take practice, patience and desire. In his book, Listen Up, Jim Dugger suggests the following steps to become a better listener:
Listen for content. While words are only a part of the message, they are an important part. One study suggests that words provide seven percent of the meaning we derive from a message. Use your intellect to listen for facts and ideas as well as the specific words people choose.
Listen to the intent. The same study reports that 38 percent of the meaning of a message comes from tone of voice, inflection, pauses and other vocalizations. Practice using your intuition to hear the underlying messages.
Assess the speaker’s nonverbal communication. Body language, including facial expressions, provides the final 55 percent of the verbal message. Watch for signals that tell you what the speaker is really saying.
Monitor your nonverbal communication. You must be just as vigilant about the messages you are sending to the speaker while you are listening. Remember, body language can speak very loudly without your saying a word.
Listen to the speaker with empathy. Finally, try to see the situation from your speaker’s point of view and try not to prejudge.
Becoming a better listener takes time, and as mentioned before, practice. Try this exercise as a way to sharpen your skills. First, choose a person with whom you would like to strengthen your relationship. Begin by asking an open-ended question to get the conversation started. Then, listen while applying the five steps listed above. Start small. Strive to listen for five minutes during which you are not allowed to interrupt, give advice or hijack the conversation by telling the speaker your side or story. Instead, you will keep the conversation going by giving them verbal and nonverbal signals that you are listening and by asking additional questions.
Remember, interpersonal communication is a two-way street. People often need you to listen to them before they will be willing to listen to you. As Stephen Covey says in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you should seek first to understand, then to be understood.